Ben Alexander learned a lot about college soccer during his freshman year at South Carolina. Now, the sophomore from Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada is aiming to use his experiences to take the next step in not only becoming a better goalkeeper, but to elevate the program.
“With this team, nothing is given. Everything is earned,” said Alexander, who started 16 matches as a freshman and also gained more experience in the offseason playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ MLS NextPRO squad. “I definitely came in a little naive to college soccer, maybe thinking I was the big man on campus, so to speak. This year, I just want to find some consistency.
“We had a pretty good defensive record. I know the guys in front of me are working hard and improving. They’re keeping that consistency to help me do my job. I just want to be that brick wall in the back. I want to be that sturdiness and backbone that the team needs.”
In trying to take his game to the next level, Alexander went through some humbling experiences, but he knew his coaches still had faith in him.
“Me and (head coach) Tony (Annan) definitely had a few chats in his office about some goals, but it was all support at the end of the day,” Alexander said. “That’s all you can ask for from a coaching staff when you’re a goalkeeper.
“When I went back to Vancouver, I put my work in on the field, but it was definitely a mentality switch. Tony and I talked a lot about that; keeping my mentality right.”
Alexander’s collegiate career didn’t start the way he had hoped as knee surgery before the 2022 season kept him out of the lineup initially, but it didn’t take him long to appreciate where he was as South Carolina led the nation in attendance last year.
“I didn’t get the preseason I wanted and was sort of thrown into a game at Ohio State,” Alexander said. “The home game against Clemson was my first introduction to South Carolina and Columbia as a soccer community. I think there were six thousand people there. I’ve played in many different scenarios, and I’ve played in many different places. That being my first game here really made me want to play for this school.”
“You want the goalkeeper to be your rock.”
Although it’s only his second year with the Gamecocks, he wants to take on a leadership role in making the program successful.
“As a player, you want consistency,” Alexander said. “You want the goalkeeper to be your rock. You don’t have to have him do anything special to keep you on your toes. I try my best to be that guy, especially in the locker room. I do my best to pull what I can out of players to help them get better. At the end of the day, that’s everybody’s job.”
Having come to the southeast from western Canada, Alexander is no stranger to making adjustments, whether it’s with his lifestyle or his appearance, including growing his hair out after donning a buzz cut last year.
“This is strictly for photo day,” Alexander said of his now bushy hair. “I want to look good for my profile photo. I’ll tighten it up for the season but definitely not going back to the buzz cut.
“The time difference was the biggest adjustment coming here. I’m going to bed and my parents are getting off work. I like it here. I’ve slipped out a ‘y’all’ a couple of times. I’m starting to get a tan, too. I used to be a really big gamer, but when I came to school, I had to be an adult.”
Armed with that experience and maturity, Alexander is looking forward to taking the pitch in 2023.
“We have a big schedule. Lots of nice away games, too. I’m looking to take some points away from teams that think they’re free points.”