Ben Sippola of Butler University Looks To Make Run at NCAA Tournament
Last fall Minnesota soccer fans watched the career of Teal Bunbury unfold. Bunbury was playing for the #1 ranked Akron Zips who went to the NCAA Championship game only to lose to Virginia. While there are numerous college seniors from Minnesota participating in Division 1 college soccer this 2010 season, this year sees another Minnesotan making an impact on a top ranked Division-1 college soccer program.
Ben Sippola is well known in Minnesota soccer coaching circles but he may not be quite as well known to the general soccer population. Sippola is a senior for the Butler Bulldogs who are currently ranked #7 in the nation with a 6-0-0 conference record and a 13-0-1 overall record.
Even though Sippola is a central midfielder he leads his team in scoring at Butler with 7 goals and has 7 assists to his name as well.
Sippola spent his junior and senior high school years at Shattuck Academy forgoing a traditional high school soccer program where he may have gotten more local publicity. He grew up playing with the Mahtomedi Soccer Association. Ben’s burgeoning talent with a soccer ball became apparent and eventually he moved to Bangu Tsunami SC. He did play for Mahtomedi High School under Paul Beggin for two years and made the 2004 Class A All Tournament Team as a sophomore.
Before Sipploa’s junior year, his family moved to Northfield when his mother took a new job in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. At the same time Ben started school at Shattuck St. Mary’s Academy to further his soccer skills. It was the first year of the school’s soccer program and Sippola was named captain both years he attended.
Sippola stayed involved with ODP during that time. He made the state team from 2003-06 and the Region II Team from 2005-07. He also took trips with his Region II ODP team to participate in the Disney International Super Group and traveled to Austria and Costa Rica for tournaments.
Sippola says he made the right choice in attending Butler University. “It was a really good fit as far as academics and soccer go,” says Sippola from the university that is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. “I immediately took to the coaching staff as well. Kelly Findley is our head coach. I knew they were in a rebuilding process and knew because of that I would have a better chance of actually playing my freshman year. I did actually start 10 games that season until I tore my MCL. The school was just a good fit — a good feel for me.”
Sippola’s hunches were right. Since his injury he’s played in every game in his sophomore and junior year and every game so far this season. He states that his freshman class was Coach Findley’s first group of recruits for the school. “In the beginning you could definitely see we were going through a rebuilding phase,” said Sippola. “Coach Findley brought in 14 new guys into the program. We were 9-7-2 our first season and we were competitive and finished 4th in the Horizon Conference. Our sophomore year we improved to 13-3-4 and we broke into the top 25 in the nation at the end of the year. We also finished 2nd in the conference. We had a great record again last year at 14-3-2. We won the conference and went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.”
Neil Cassidy is the Rochester Thunder PDL coach and has managed Sippola during the summer in the Thunder’s first two PDL seasons. But he’s known the midfielder for longer, coaching him on ODP teams when still in high school. He explains that Sippola’s flexibility has been a key to his success. “With the Rochester Thunder last season we needed someone who could play at right back and be flexible and bring everything he could,” said Cassidy. “That’s where we had him for two-thirds of last season. The last third he played centrally for us.”
That same flexibility has allowed Sippola to play a more offensive position this season for the Bulldogs. “We lost a couple of guys who were big point contributors this past year so it’s allowed me to step into a new role,” said Sippola, explaining his new goal-scoring prowess for Butler. “Because of that I’ve been a lot more productive this season as far as scoring goals. I was more of a defensive midfielder my previous three years and this year I’m much more of an attacking midfielder.”
“Even from ODP you could see it,” said Cassidy explaining Sippola’s long distance shots. “Ben could strike a ball true. Because of that he can cause problems for the other team striking from distance. When he does that defenders start coming out a bit and it creates more space for the ball.”
However, Cassidy says that he believes Sippola’s greatest strength is his passion, fight and ability to lead. “His work ethic is probably number one,” Cassidy said. “If you speak about any player leaving it all on the field for every single game, that’s Ben. He wants to learn and he likes to work hard but he brings it out in others as well. His leadership qualities on the field are second to none.”
Soccer isn’t Sippola’s only passion. Fishing is another. But not just any sort of fishing. Sippola loves fly fishing. In fact after his sophomore year and before the Rochester Thunder team was in existence, Sippola and a college soccer teammate got creative in looking for a PDL team to play on for the summer. “We emailed all the PDL coaches in the nation that had teams in great fly fishing locations,” laughed Sippola. “The Cascade Surge in Portland, Oregon showed the most interest so that’s where we went. It ended up being a phenomenal experience. Really, we had the summer of our lives. Fly fishing, playing soccer and exploring British Columbia, Oregon and Washington. It was really great.”
Sippola says he picked up a fly rod at age 11 and spent a lot of time fishing the Kinnikinnick and Rush Rivers of Wisconsin. In fact he publishes his own fly fishing blog called “Munster Trout: Driftless Minnesota.” In his blog he states: “Although soccer is one of my passions, it does not hold a candle to my love for fly fishing.”
Moving from the Cascade Surge to the Rochester Thunder has been pretty painless for Sippola with dozens of Southeast Minnesota trout streams to fish. And it’s that which Sippola primarily writes about in his nicely laid out website.
But for now, Sippola’s focus is strictly on his soccer season. “At this point we are hoping to get an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament,” said Sippola. “I think it comes down to staying focused in our final games. We have a really big game against Indiana next week. But each game is big. This is the best opportunity we’ve ever had at Butler. This year everyone is firing on all cylinders and we have a really good close knit group of guys. Everyone in the locker room is very optimistic about our post season chances. But we’re working on not getting ahead of ourselves. Our motto for the season has been “one game at a time” and that’s what we’ll do.”
“I do want to play soccer professionally when I’m done with college,” finished Sippola. “After the season’s over I’ll have a pretty good idea what I’ll be doing next year or if I’m invited to any MLS or USL combines. But for now it’s all about playing the best I can for Butler over the next month.”