Chris Kafina ’16 believes in aliens, learned a lot from “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and might just be one of the hottest players in Division III soccer. After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Eastern Connecticut State College in their season opener, the men’s soccer team needed something special to get things back on track before the intense NESCAC campaign commenced.
Down late against Haverford College last weekend, the Redbirds were on the cusp of starting their season 0-2—two out of conference losses would have severely damaged their NCAA tournament hopes—when Kafina intervened. Collecting the ball with his back to goal off a low cross, the striker, ever calm on the ball, rolled the ball back toward a bounding Daniel Rubenstein ’17, who guided the ball into bottom corner from the edge of the box, tying the game at one, and forcing overtime. Then in the second period of extras, Kafina got on the end of another cross and this time buried it home with his first touch: a golden goal.
He then scored twice and assisted once in this Tuesday’s 7-1 take down of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, meaning he’s totaled three goals and two assists in his last two games.
This writer has known “Kaf,” as he’s affectionately known, a long time, and still can’t quite figure him out. There’s something mysterious and magical about him, and that might just be what makes him so tricky on the field. The Argus sat down with the men’s soccer star to try to reveal the method to his madness.
The Argus: Chris, you’ve had quite a week. Lead us through the golden goal at Haverford. What was going through your mind when the ball hit the back of the net down in Pennsylvania?
Chris Kafina: By the second period of overtime everybody was kind of hoping that something would happen. It was a free kick by Brandon Sousa [’16]. He put in a great delivery to Charlie Gruner [’17] who got a flick on it, which went to the byline and Nick Hawkins [’19] hit an amazing one-time cross across the box, and I just stuck my foot out and volleyed it in. It was a really cool feeling. I haven’t had a goal like that or anything close to that in my whole college career. I was just feeling like we really needed that win and I didn’t feel like we were going to get it since we were down 1-0 with just a few minutes left in the game before my boy Danny Rubenstein [’17] put the team on his shoulders and tucked one away, so when I got the winner it was almost surreal.
A: What do you think the key is to your recent success?
CK: I just kind of came to this realization that it was my senior year, I’ve been playing soccer my whole life, and the only way I could see myself leaving the game would be if I left everything out on the field each practice and each game. I’m always trying my best and want to make the team want it as much as I do. I absolutely love this team, and that has kind of propelled me to give 110 percent effort every single time I’m playing.
A: After the season-opening loss, things looked a little shaky. How do you deal with losing? Do you accept it? Does it motivate you?
CK: It definitely motivated us. We all knew that it was a very important game that meant a lot for our NCAA bid because it was out of conference. So after we lost all the seniors met together after the game and knew that we had to figure out a way to take the team in a different direction. We decided to have the whole team come over to the seniors’ house and we basically opened up the floor for an hour and a half and got all of our thoughts and frustrations out on the table, and it was really nice. We’ve never had this sort of team chemistry where freshmen through seniors felt comfortable sharing their ideas, and we basically just decided from that meeting that we had to turn it around and do better. It fueled us moving forward. The rest of that week was super intense and then obviously we came to play against Haverford.
A: You’re a player who always plays with all of your heart. What is it that you love most about soccer?
CK: I love the team. I love having the whole team be like your family for the season and beyond the season, looking out for each other. And then obviously I thrive on the competition, and scoring’s always nice. It’s an amazing feeling.
A: What from your past ignited the competitive fire that you bring to Wesleyan soccer?
CK: I’ve always been a fairly competitive person even from an early age. I had a best friend by the name of Tyson and right off the bus I would run over to his house and we would play backyard baseball, basketball, soccer, two hand touch, whatever it was. So I kind of did that for my whole childhood with Tyson and other kids that lived around our neighborhood, and that ignited the thirst for competition in me, you might say. It helped me take the next step into playing sports competitively during elementary school recess.
A: From such a multisport background, how did you land on the game of soccer?
CK: I remember the first time I touched a soccer ball I was in the backyard with my dad and my brother and they were playing and I didn’t really know what it was they were doing. I had never really got introduced to it until that day in my backyard when my dad kicked the ball to me and I kind of saved it with my foot, and my dad said, “Oh, you might be kind of good at this.” And so then at recess I started searching for the kids playing soccer, and I just loved to run and I eventually got sort of good at it, and then that turned into me loving it. I used to love playing world cup, especially girls against boys, or when it was me and my three friends against the grade. I’ve never been a big follower of the game but I love playing it. My brother and parents are both swimmers, and into medicine, so I’ve always been the oddball of the family. Soccer was no exception.
A: What has been the most pivotal moment of your soccer career?
CK: I think what solidified what me getting into a good school for soccer was when I did really well in regionals for my club team when I was 17 and 18 years old. I scored five goals in regionals both years and we made it to two finals, and so I got some looks. Those few weekends ended up being huge for me and really influenced the trajectory of my life.
A: How does soccer inform your life at school?
CK: Soccer gives me a really great break from whatever’s going on in my life outside of soccer, and it creates some structure in my day. I usually structure my day around soccer practice. I try to get as much work as possible done before practice and then finish it after, and then hang out with my friends later at night when I’m all done with my work. I’m always more on top of my game in-season than out-of-season.
A: What are you expecting from Bowdoin this weekend as you commence your NESCAC campaign?
CK: I think the NESCAC campaign will be really different from the three games we’ve played so far. NESCAC teams are always much more physical and play at a much faster pace, so we’re definitely going to have to up our game on both of those fronts. We’re just going to have to go into the game with urgency and play with all of our hearts.
A: We’ve established your passion for sport. What gets you going in the classroom?
CK: My major is Econ. I’m pretty good with math and it’s a practical major. The best thing about Wesleyan is that it allows me to take other random classes that I wouldn’t be able to take otherwise, like dance, literature, and music courses. I’ve a very spontaneous guy so I like an eclectic mix of classes.
A: What’s your favorite book, and why?
CK: My favorite book is “Tuesdays With Morrie.” It’s about a student who really looks up to his professor and says he’s going to keep in touch with him after college but gets wrapped up in his own life and becomes really self involved, and then 15 years later starts visiting his professor every Tuesday when he learns that his professor doesn’t have much time left to live. And they reestablish their connection, and Morrie loves his student and tells him about what’s most important in life, and what he thinks people should focus on and think about. He really sees life for how it is, and I’d say that that book echoes my values. I have a laid-back nature, but that book really helps me always think about what’s really important and how I should spend my time and treat people.
A: What has been your favorite class at Wes?
CK: Probably Dark Side of the Universe. I know all about the universe now, and aliens definitely exist.
A: You clearly love life. What’s your philosophy on love and how does it relate to soccer, especially as you face the end of your playing career?
CK: I think love is real, and it’s all about how much you care about others. We all love certain people, and we all are deeply influenced by those people. I think love means that you can’t be without something. I feel that way about my family, my friends, and most definitely my two dogs. The same goes for soccer, and obviously it’s really sad to contemplate the end of my career, but it just makes me cherish this last season that much more.