By Shaun Chornobroff
Taner Bay did not touch the field through most of his freshman year. Rider men’s soccer Head Coach Charlie Inverso admitted that he thought Bay was going to end up redshirting his first year at the program.
“It came down to the second to the last game of the [regular] season,” Inverso said. “We were really lean and decided to insert him late in the season and he did really well.”
Bay made his collegiate soccer debut on Oct. 28, 2017, in a hard-fought 0-0 tie against Marist College before making his first career start the very next game in a 3-0 loss against Fairfield University.
It would not be the last time the Broncs saw Fairfield that season, eventually falling to the Stags in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship game 11 days later.
“We felt like there was work unfinished,” Bay said of his freshman season. “We weren’t upset with the season, but we knew we could have done more.”
Bay experienced a breakout sophomore season and patrolled the midfield for a Rider team that entered the MAAC tournament with a pedestrian record of 8-9-1 but left it as champions.
“We came in as a fifth seed, but we knew we could be better,” Bay said. “We just came in and came together as a team, all of us.”
“I had an assist in the semi-finals against Fairfield, then in the final, when we won, everybody coming together, that’s what I remember the most out of this experience, that championship-winning year, even right after that whistle was blown,” Bay said. “I can still remember the first five, ten minutes of everybody coming together and celebrating. I’ll never forget that.”
Bay’s memorable sophomore season continued with a start in the NCAA tournament against Akron University, an experience that Bay continues to cherish.
“It was crazy,” Bay said of the matchup against Akron. “Everybody was so excited, very amped up to play. And when we got there it was snowing the whole time because it was in November and we were in Ohio. It was freezing cold [but] we were all so excited to play and show what we could do on a national level.”
Rider’s Cinderella run from fifth seed in the MAAC to the NCAA tournament ended on that snowy night in Ohio. Rider put up a good fight against Akron, even finding themselves tied in the latter stages of the game against a team that advanced all the way to the national championship game.
Despite suffering a heartbreaking ending, Bay knows his sophomore season is something he will never forget.
“That was a fun year, we had a great team, everybody loved playing with each other. Everybody was very in sync, we would go into games more confident than I’ve ever been going into games before, knowing that we were the better team and that we could do what we wanted,” Bay said. “Then running through the MAAC tournament, every game do-or-die, it’s kind of scary, but at the same time full of excitement, because this is why we play sports. Then when you finally win the finals, it’s this feeling of excitement and enjoyment that was just unreal.”
Since being a part of the MAAC Championship team in 2018, Bay’s role on the team has only grown. Inverso referred to him as “the unofficial captain” of the team.
“He’s somebody that the guys on the team respond to,” said Inverso. “He’s clearly somebody that I depend on a lot. There are so many things that a good, reliable person can do for you, as a captain.”
Inverso joked that Bay’s reliability and character might be a downfall because he asks him to do so much.
Bay’s reliability has stretched into the classroom where he is a two-time member of the MAAC All-Academic team and planning to attend medical school when his time at Rider comes to an end.
A commitment to academics and athletics is something that has been instilled in Bay and his two sisters from a young age.
“I think that goes back to upbringing,” Bay said of his academic and athletic success. “Even when we were younger, elementary school, middle school, the first thing we always had to do was get our homework done, before we [could] go out and play or do anything else.”
Bay attributes this part of his lifestyle to his mother, who enforced this behavior during his upbringing. Bay’s father introduced him to the sport he still plays today.
“I always leaned toward soccer because my dad played it growing up. He’s from Turkey; soccer is the biggest sport over there,” Bay said. “That was the first thing he exposed me to. The first sport he wanted me to play and I just loved it, playing with him out in the yard, doing anything with him.”
Bay’s father was very involved with his son’s athletics, serving as an assistant coach on his teams when he was younger. When Bay got to high school, he was faced with Sophie’s choice that many young and talented soccer players have had to make: join a club within the United States Development Academy — the top level of youth soccer in the country — or play high school soccer. The Development Academy program shutdown in 2020, but its rules forbid players from playing both high school and for one of its programs.
To the disappointment of the coaches at Webster Thomas High School, Bay chose to play in a local Development Academy called Empire United Soccer Club.
Bay experienced a lot of success at Empire and attracted the attention of multiple colleges who were interested in him playing soccer for them. Even his coaches at Empire saw the effect that Bay’s parents had in developing him as a person and player.
“I think his success, a big piece of it is his ward,” said Paul Valenti, one of Bay’s coaches at Empire United and his tenth-grade health teacher. “I always think about his family, his mom and his dad being super supportive of him, pursuing his dreams. As a kid when you have to choose between playing high school and development academy, it’s hard.”
His father stopped serving as an assistant coach for Bay’s teams when he joined Empire United, but he still holds a role as father and coach in Bay’s life today.
“He would still guide me, he knows the game very well,” Bay said of his father. “He’s my first [call] after games. I’ll call him, talk to him, look for tips and pointers on how I can get better, even after games nowadays.”
Bay now lives a long way from his hometown of Webster, New York, but that does not stop his parents from supporting their eldest child.
“My mom and he will drive the five and a half hours every weekend they can to come to see me, but if they can’t they’re always streaming the games, I doubt they’ve missed very many if any,” Bay said graciously.
The number of compliments thrown Bay’s way by current and former coaches shows he can be described as a number of different adjectives, from quiet to hard-working, to intelligent, but Inverso summed him up well, simply referring to Bay as a “coach’s dream.”
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