Winning and championships are byproducts of being a champion.
That's what Ashland University men's soccer head coach Oliver Slawson instills into his players. It's why they won the GLIAC Tournament title and went to the NCAA Tournament last season, despite sometimes overwhelming early season struggles.
They have champions in the program. One of them is senior midfielder John Duldner, who on Saturday (Oct. 12) at the AU Hall of Fame banquet, will officially be recognized as the 2018-19 Male Student-Athlete of the Year. The award is selected by the faculty athletic committee.
"I found out I won from (AU athletic director) Al King," Duldner said. "I didn't expect to win it, but I was very happy, ecstatic. I told my parents. Coach was proud of me because I was the first one in the soccer program's history."
Duldner has been a mainstay in the program since its reinstatement prior to the 2016 season. He is one of six seniors on the squad who got their start with Ashland and stuck as the foundation of the program.
And he's also a biology/pre-med student with a 3.99 grade-point average, which puts him in an elite class of his peers. He was the highest academic graded soccer player in Ohio.
He carries with him the same passion for his studies and his future as he does on the soccer pitch where he can be seen as the interrupter of opposing team attacks as a central midfielder and the pivot point to switch possession into the attacking side of the field.
Slawson remarked that Duldner's contributions to the program are summed up perfectly by his first ever game in an AU uniform. The first game in the return of men's soccer to the school. The Eagles were tied at 1 in the final minute of overtime at Daemen (N.Y.).
"He scores the winner off a corner off a header to win the game," said Slawson. "That's an effort play. Running in and being brave. Putting your body on the line and your head where it hurts to win and getting the program's first victory. He's been that way ever since."
Duldner plans to eventually attend medical school, but isn't yet sure if he'll go directly there after graduation.
"Ideally it would be to go to med school," he said. "It's something I've wanted since I was young. In the past two or three years, I've looked at some other options. Med school is always the end goal."
Duldner is an example to show that being a good student and a good athlete (he was named All-GLIAC last season) are not mutually exclusive. For him, they tie together.
When asked what from his studies has helped him on the field, he did not hesitate: "The problem-solving ability. The chemistry, especially (organic) chem is a big problem-solving course. You get a problem on a test and it's not exactly what you saw in class or what you saw in the homework. You have to use what you've learned to figure out the answer. In soccer, or any aspect of life, you're not always going to get what you think. You're not always going to see what you expect. You're going to have to use your brain and change how you view things, and work it until you get it."
That carried onto the field last season as the Eagles started by winning just two of their first 11 games, but finishing the year 6-2-2 in the last 10 games on their way to a championship.
"Last season, we didn't get what we wanted at the beginning, but we kept pushing and eventually we found a way to win," said Duldner.
The Eagles are looking to have a similar season this year after getting off to a rough start, losing their first five games all while Duldner was out with an injury.
In the sixth game, the Eagles and Northern Michigan were scoreless at halftime when Slawson brought Duldner on for his first action of the season. Eighty seconds later, Ashland had the lead with the assist coming from Duldner.
Ashland went on to win that game and has won three of its last four games.
"He might not be the most vocal guy or peacock in the room, but he speaks with his actions, and that's in the classroom and on the field," Slawson said. "Champions do things right all the time, not just when someone's watching. We've got a program full of those.
"We don't win because we have the best players. We get through by having the best people. John embodies what it means to be an Ashland University soccer player."