Soccer defenders often aren’t responsible for goals and assists. They aren’t often around the opponent’s goal, and as a result, don’t have many opportunities to contribute to goals.
JMU men’s soccer senior defender Tom Judge is no exception; in 56 career matches over his first three years at JMU, the Freehold, New Jersey, native has scored only twice and assisted on three other goals. However, he said that he contributes in ways that the box score doesn’t track.
“I try not to let whoever’s on my side do much with the ball, whether that’s them getting the ball or intercepting passes,” Judge said. “And then I try to bring the ball up from one-third of the field to the next, even if it doesn’t lead directly to a goal.”
Despite the lack of statistical production, Judge has established himself as one of the premier defenders in the CAA and the country. Every year as a Duke, he’s finished on the All-CAA team, including a first-team selection in 2019. In September, he was named to the College Soccer News Preseason All-America Team, the only player from the CAA to do so.
On the field, Judge is a fast defender who naturally moves forward on the offensive attack from the defensive position. Head coach Paul Zazenski said that his competitiveness and athleticism made him stand out during the recruiting process.
“He’s always wanting to win, and he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Zazenski said. “I think he was a little bit underrecruited, and maybe that’s one reason why he plays like that.”
Before coming to JMU, Judge played at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey. There, he earned several accolades, including the Shore Sports Network Shore Conference A-North First Team in 2015 and 2016. Judge said he feels that his time playing at the Christian Brothers Academy was well spent.
“Getting into a routine, doing it everyday, gave me an insight into how managing a routine with school and doing stuff on weekends would be at college,” Judge said.
Judge made an impression the moment he began playing for the Dukes. He started the last 11 games of his freshman season and was named to the CAA All-Rookie team and the All-CAA second team.
“I recall the very first exhibition we had, and I remember thinking to myself and talking to the other coaches on the staff, ‘Man, we really got a good player here.’” Zazenski said. “And after he took the starting role, he never let it go.”
During Judge’s sophomore season, he was a key part of the JMU team that went 15-5-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. The Dukes allowed only 13 goals and shut out 13 teams that year. In 2019, the Dukes had a good defense as well, allowing 22 goals in 21 games and again making it to the NCAA Tournament.
“It feels like you have to go out there and do your job every single game,” Judge said. “We have our job and we know we’re not going to lose if we don’t give up any goals.”
One of Zazenski’s favorite memories of Judge came from the Dukes’ season-ending loss against Michigan State, 2-1, in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Zazenski said Judge went up against one of the most highly-rated and talented attacking players in the country, but held his own.
“When Thomas Judge went into that game and ran with him and was just as athletic as that player, that memory stands out because I think that solidified just how athletic he can be,” Zazenski said. “He can stand one-v-one with anybody in the entire country.”
Judge’s competitiveness and determination spreads throughout the rest of the team. Junior defender Melker Anshelm said that Judge is always running and that it helps the team stay motivated.
“It’s his attitude and mentality; he’s always locked in during games,” Anshelm said. “That definitely influences the rest of the guys. They get into it mentally and are more locked in.”
Judge’s seniority makes him someone that underclassmen look up to. Anshelm stated that since he’s been so impactful as a three-year starter, other players want to learn from him and hear his advice.
“Especially the outside backs coming up now, freshman and sophomores, they are definitely looking up to him,” Anshelm said. “Because they’re in the same position as him, they’re trying to learn from him and take his spot once he’s gone.”
Despite all the praise he gets, Judge maintains a team-oriented mindset. He said that he and the rest of the Dukes are excited to get back out on the field for a potential spring season.
“I know we’re all super bummed that we’re not able to play this fall but we’re all gearing up to focus on the first game of the spring, whenever it is,” Judge said. “We always want to have a goal in mind, something we’re working towards. That first game in the spring, and how many games we may be able to play in the spring, that’s just all that’s going through our heads.”
Contact Joshua Gingrich at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.