September 13, 2016

Nor'easter News - Week 2

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

With the season now in full swing, there were a number of compelling matchups this past weekend. Perhaps most notably, NESCAC play began in earnest, with a number of good contests. Elsewhere, there were a number of surprise results: Keene State downed Wheaton 6-1, Babson ended a four-game losing skid against Brandeis, and Newbury pulled off a 1-0 win at MIT on Wednesday night. And though we haven’t seen a ton of traditional powers do battle yet, we certainly saw that the weeks to come will likely feature a variety of competitive, exciting games.

Impressions

I said last week that one goal would probably be enough to settle the clash between Bowdoin and defending National Champions Amherst, and so it proved as Amherst took the game 1-0. The Lord Jeffs made a long throw-in count, as striker Weller Hlimonaz, a transfer from NESCAC foe Connecticut College, put the ball home early in the second half to give Amherst a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. And while the nature of the goal was perhaps scrappy, the Lord Jeffs were admittedly worthy winners, as they outshot their hosts 19-7 on the day. Even so, Amherst will know that the importance of regular season games pales in comparison to postseason matches. Two years ago, much like Saturday, Amherst defeated Bowdoin 1-0 at Pickard Field on a goal from striker Greg Singer. Two months later, however, the Polar Bears got one over their rivals when they defeated the Lord Jeffs on penalty kicks in the final of the NESCAC Tournament, capping Bowdoin’s improbable run to its first-ever conference title. Should the two teams meet again, Amherst coach Justin Serpone will ensure that his squad doesn’t take Bowdoin lightly, as September games count for little in November.

Elsewhere in the NESCAC, there were a number of interesting contests. Saturday, Middlebury picked up its second win of the season at Connecticut College, 1-0. Also on that day, Wesleyan won at Swarthmore, 4-1, Hamilton pulled out an away win at Bates, 1-0, and Tufts and Colby battled to a 1-1 draw. The Ephs of Williams, meanwhile, completed their two-game season-opening weekend homestead with a 100% record, defeating Trinity (Conn.) and Eastern Connecticut State University. While some have dubbed Amherst and Middlebury the preliminary favorites for the conference title this fall, I think there are a number of teams that could challenge for the conference crown. Either way, one thing is for sure: there will be no easy games in this year’s NESCAC Tournament.

They say that the form book goes out the window in rivalry games, and that proved to be the case in Saturday’s grudge match between host Babson and visiting Brandeis. The Judges had won the last four meetings against the Beavers, including a 2-0 drubbing at Hartwell-Rogers Field back in 2014, but Babson picked up its first victory over Brandeis since 2011, 1-0, in double overtime. After a tight battle through 108 minutes, which was incidentally the same minute in which Brandeis scored last year to defeat Babson, midfielder Noah Parker buried a penalty kick after the Judges were called for a handball in the box. The Beavers, who outshot their hosts 19-15, improve to 2-2 with the upset, while Brandeis falls to 3-1 with the defeat. And while a 2OT loss is difficult, Brandeis has no time to dwell on the defeat, as the Judges have a tough Wednesday night trip to WPI, a squad currently at 4-0. Regardless, with the heart of conference play yet to come, this was a good match for both teams to see where they’re at.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Mass-Boston has to be considered the favorites to win the LEC once again. The Beacons are currently 5-0, having outscored their opponents 17-2 - the lone two against came in a 3-2 overtime win at defending NAC Champions Thomas. While its early start certainly should provide optimism for Beacons fans, Boston has difficult tests coming on the horizon: a home match against Rhode Island College in a rematch of last year's LEC final, a trip to defending NEWMAC Champion Babson, a trip to ECSU, and an away game at MIT. Regardless, the team has a number of talented returners who, with another year of experience under their belts, will only get better, leaving the Beacon’s opponents with much to think about.

Though Endicott managed to tie both Final Four participant Calvin and NESCAC side Williams last year, the Gulls fell in the conference championship to local rivals Gordon. And while coming into this year, many thought that Endicott might struggle after losing some key players from last year’s squad, the Gulls are better off than they were at this point last year. After falling at home in its opener to Carthage, Endicott has gone 3-0 since, including an upset over Tufts. Joe Calabrese’s squad kept the good times rolling this weekend with a 2-1 win at Mass-Dartmouth, putting the Gulls at 3-1, one blemish less than last year’s record of 2-1-1 after four games. The Gulls have a number of compelling tests coming up, starting with Williams at home on Wednesday night, but based on what they’ve done so far I think Endicott has every chance to get back to the CCC final and, this time, finish the job.

Speaking of Gordon, they host Tufts Wednesday night in the Jumbos’ second trip to the North Shore in as many weeks. The Fighting Scots are 2-1-1 on the year, defeating Husson and Maine Maritime, losing to Carthage, and, most recently, tying Roger Williams at home on Saturday. As mentioned last week, Gordon pulled off a sizeable upset over UAA contender Carnegie Mellon in the 1st Round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, and the Fighting Scots will have to deal with the burden of expectations that comes with being a regional contender. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see the outcome of Wednesday’s game against a Tufts team that won the 2014 National Title and went to the Sweet 16 last year. If the Scots can pull off the win, it’ll certainly put other teams on notice.

Wednesday night, I saw in-person arguably the upset of the season so far, as Newbury College pulled off a 1-0 win at MIT. A Sweet 16 team last year, the favored Engineers were fresh off a 1-0 road victory at Stevens on Saturday, and had the majority of the possession and shots. However, Newbury grew into the game, got to half at 0-0, and less than a minute after having a shot cleared off the line, got the goal it deserved with 11:38 left when senior midfielder Alex Davis scored a beautiful 25-yard free kick that stunned the home crowd while sending the traveling Newbury fans into raptures. From there, the Nighthawks held on for a momentous victory over a nationally-ranked opponent. I was impressed with some of the play that Newbury put together against the Engineers, as they held strong despite the onslaught of MIT pressure. And while the Nighthawks went 0-1-1 over the weekend, Newbury has to be considered the chief threat to dislodge Daniel Webster from their perch atop the NECC.

Last but certainly not least, Keene State has quietly started the season in impressive fashion. The Owls have gone 3-0 in their opening three matches, outscoring their opponents 15-1. Perhaps most notably, Keene State hammered Wheaton 5-1 on Saturday afternoon, with striker Promise Kpee netting a hat-trick after freshman midfielder Glenn Smith put the Owls 2-0 up in the first 10 minutes. Striker Samuel Binogono got the other goal for Keene State, while forward Roni Diniz notched a consolation goal for Wheaton. If the Owls didn’t already have everyone’s attention after their first two victories, they certainly do after the result against Wheaton. Keene State has a demanding schedule this year, with trips to Middlebury and Tufts on the cards, as well as home contests against ECSU, Mass-Boston, and 2015 NCAA squad RPI, but if the Owls can perhaps pick up a win or two in that slate of contests, then they’ll have to be considered a contender for an NCAA bid.

Upcoming Game of the Week: Williams vs. Babson

While this game in Williamstown will be a compelling watch for a number of reasons, I think the biggest will be to see if, like the last three occasions in this fixture, the away team wins. Last year, Williams caught their hosts on an off day, as the Ephs thumped the Beavers 7-2 in Babson’s most lopsided loss in recent memory. This year, the Beavers will travel to Western Mass. with revenge on their minds. That said, Williams, in coach Erin Sullivan’s second season, won’t roll over, and the 2-0 Ephs will certainly put up a stern test. Should Babson triumph, it will prove that the Brandeis result was no fluke, and perhaps augment its status as the favorite for the NEWMAC title. Conversely, if Williams wins, it will be full of momentum prior to its upcoming trip to Amherst. Either way, I’ll certainly try to tune into this one, as I think it’ll be a competitive, feisty encounter.

 


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Nor'easter News

 

Nor'easter News provides coverage of Division III men's soccer throughout the New England region, home to the NESCAC, one of the nation's strongest and deepest conferences, as well as the NEWMAC, CCC, LEC and others. Each week the more significant results of the previous week are discussed, along with impressions and analysis, followed by the selection of a game to keep an eye on in the week ahead.

Columnist

Henry Loughlin

Henry Loughlin is a Brandeis University graduate (2014, Politics & American Studies) and has enjoyed watching Division III soccer for the past six years as a student and alumnus. Though a writer by trade, his interest in numbers and statistical analysis makes soccer writing and commentary a favorite pastime. [see full bio]

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