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Calvin goalie makes four-year impact

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Matt Thelen

A star goalie and a future Navy
officer, Matt Thelen is a true defender.

A four-year starter in goal for the Calvin men's soccer team, Thelen has made a definite impact during his collegiate career as he ranks third on the all-time Calvin list for goaltender victories and carries a career goals-against-average of 1.21. As a sophomore in 1999, he helped lead Calvin to its first MIAA championship since 1999 by posting a 0.68 goals-against-average-the second-lowest average in Calvin history. A two-time MIAA Player of the Week, Thelen was named to the All-MIAA second team in 2000 and received honorable mention recognition from the MIAA in 1999. In addition, he was named a two-time All-State selection as a goaltender at Grand Haven High School.

"I've really enjoyed the time I've put into [soccer] and I think that has been the key," said Thelen.

A Grand Haven native, Thelen began his soccer career while in the sixth grade, playing at the local YMCA. He did not begin playing goalie until he was in ninth grade and it was admiration that put him there. "My brother (Jeremy) used to play goalie…and I really looked up to him, so I began to play," he said.

Now a senior at Calvin, Thelen has 16 career shutout victories to his credit including three this fall. "Matt is a wonderful goalie," said Calvin men's soccer coach Dave VerMerris. "He recognizes dangerous situations as they build and puts a stop to them."

Though Thelen has found considerable success with the game of soccer, not all his ambitions are found in nets. A mechanical engineering major, Thelen will join the United States Navy in order to become a nuclear propulsions officer after graduating from Calvin in May. Once there, his vision is to be able to work on submarines.

Despite world events having direct implications on the United State military, Thelen's plans remain the same. How is that for a defender's composure?

Upon arrival, June 8, 2002, Thelen will enlist in six months of officer candidate school followed by a year of nuclear propulsion training. He said that though he expects the world's political events to have cooled down by the time his 20 months are up, he sees opportunities even if they have not. "Even if everything is still going on, this will actually give me a chance to learn in real situations and not in training exercises. I will learn by going through a whole range of emotions."

Dangerous situations aren't new to Thelen. During his junior year at Grand Haven High School, he was severely injured during a game, as an opponent's cleat hit the back of his head, chipping off an earlobe and severing one of the arteries in his neck. Although it took more than 50 stitches to close the gash and reattach the lobe, Thelen survived without any long-term damage.

After a quick recovery, a courageous Thelen went back to the field playing with a soft shell helmet. "The helmet actually gave me confidence and I can tell you that I do not hesitate in going down after a ball," he said. Thelen said he now considers the incident just one more experience in his foundation for the future.

In spite of his rigorous demands as a mechanical engineering major and soccer player at Calvin, Thelen has maintained a 3.2 grade point average. "He is a very good student. He exemplifies the idea of a student-athlete we have here at Calvin," said VerMerris.

As part of the engineering program at Calvin, Thelen must present a senior design project in order to graduate. "Our group is building an electric car, which is very different from a nuclear submarine…but it is still very interesting," said Thelen. The car project will be presented to parents, professors and a committee of local businesspersons with whom the engineering team has been working.

So, why did Thelen choose Calvin College? "I was looking for a small school with a Christian perspective and a strong engineering program," he said. Thelen said that after he finished high school he did not think himself ready for a big college scene or to be far from home.

When asked what he has gained through four years at Calvin, Thelen said Calvin gave him the foundations he needed to spring up and do new things. "I have also learned leadership and the importance of team work," he said. "I have great memories, but I see much more ahead…hopefully I'll say that all my life. As for my long term personal plans go, I want to make an influence wherever the Lord takes me."

Star goalie, engineering student, future nuclear engineer for the Navy, are all things that speak well of Thelen. But perhaps the best compliment Thelen has received comes from VerMerris. "I think if I had a daughter his age, I'd like him for a son-in-law. And as an athlete, I'd take a whole bunch more of him."

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