PITA

Marshall goalkeeper Paulo Pita (center) jumps to make a save while surrounded by WVU players during the Thundering Herd’s win Sunday over the Mountaineers in the NCAA tournament’s second round.

HUNTINGTON — Chasing championships is nothing new for Marshall men’s soccer senior goalkeeper Paulo Pita. In fact, Pita already has one to his credit, a Division II title in 2017 while at the University of Charleston.

Now, Pita is looking to complete the rare feat of a player having a hand in both a Division I and Division II national title.

With Sunday’s 2-1 win over WVU in the second round of the NCAA College Cup, Pita moved one step closer toward that goal. Now, that championship road gets a little longer as Marshall heads to Seattle for its third-round NCAA match against No. 6 Washington at 8 p.m. Sunday at Husky Soccer Stadium.

While the Thundering Herd is an underdog, the team’s confidence is unwavering, led by its senior goalkeeper.

“We have everything to win the national championship,” Pita said.

If any player knows what it takes to win a title, it is Pita, who played on a national finalist in 2016 before earning a crown in 2017 while at UC. Following that season, Pita decided to transfer to a Division I school to test his abilities, a move he said was questioned by many.

“I made it clear that I was going to transfer to a top Division I soccer program because I want to make the next level,” Pita said. “When I committed to Marshall, a lot of people were like, ‘Why are you going to Marshall?’ Now, the answer is here. Because it is a top Division I soccer program.”

Marshall is in the midst of the program’s best season in history, earning its highest-ever national ranking along with Conference USA’s regular-season and tournament championships. Each time there has been a challenge posed, Marshall has shined in that moment. Now, Marshall (16-2-3) is one of the final 16 teams remaining, all of which have eyes on the final prize.

Pita acknowledged how tough the road will be, but reiterated that the Herd has the ability to get there.

“Going into an NCAA tournament, things can go any different way,” Pita said. “You can be a better team, but maybe it’s not your day. It’s just like the NCAA environment, you know? It’s tough. The teams that make it, they make it for a reason.”

As a team leader, it has been Pita’s focus to keep his teammates together through tough times while also making sure that things stay fun on the field.

Those are experiences gained from his run with the University of Charleston.

“I was in a really good situation in Charleston that I made back-to-back national final games — 2016, 2017,” Pita said. “It put me in a better shape to be here today.”

Pita added that the team benefited from playing in Conference USA, which ended up as one of the top leagues in the country this season. Conference USA had four teams ranked throughout the season and three teams advance to the second round — the final 32 — in the College Cup.

Both Kentucky and Charlotte lost on Sunday, leaving the Herd as the only Conference USA program remaining in the tournament.

“Conference USA prepared us for big games,” Pita said. “Honestly, I don’t think we’re going to see anything better than FIU, Kentucky or Charlotte.”

Regardless of how things go over the next three weeks, Pita has proven himself on the highest collegiate stage possible while also elevating Marshall’s program and his teammates in the process.

“I feel really happy to be in this position of how I care about the boys and the boys care about me,” Pita said.

Those were goals of his coming in and results that he will take away once his career with the Herd wraps up. For now, Pita is set on making sure that career doesn’t end on Sunday at the hands of the sixth-seeded Huskies, who are 16-3 and coming off an impressive 2-0 win over Boston College in which they outshot the Eagles, 24-5.

Pita’s hope is that his career ends on Dec. 15 — the date of the NCAA Division I men’s soccer championship takes place in Cary, North Carolina.