Nor'easter News - Week 9
The opening weekend of the NESCAC playoffs promised drama and excitement, and it’s safe to say that those promises were delivered. Two of the four games went to overtime, one of them to the 110th minute, while the other two were competitive, feisty affairs that have become synonymous with NESCAC soccer. Elsewhere, Babson, Endicott, and Mass-Boston all appear to be the favorites in tight conference races, and Brandeis, who appeared to be well out of postseason contention at the end of September, seems to be peaking at the right time.
As top seed in the NESCAC, the pressure is on Amherst’s shoulders. So far, the Jeffs have delivered in a big way, winning their quarterfinal at home against Trinity by a dominant 4-1 scoreline. After losing a number of top players in key positions, Amherst has had its credentials questioned at multiple points throughout the season, most notably following a 3-0 loss at Tufts at the beginning of October. Instead of crumbling, however, the Jeffs have responded extremely well to the adversity, and were the top-ranked New England team in the NCAA Regional Rankings. With home-field advantage for the NESCAC tournament for the fourth year running, it’s extremely possible that we could be seeing the NESCAC trophy return to Amherst for the first time since 2013.
A bit west of Amherst, in Williamstown, neither Middlebury nor Williams was able to score...until the 110th minute. With just three seconds separating the two teams from a penalty shootout, Middlebury’s Kirk Horton forced the ball home off of a corner kick to give the Panthers an invaluable victory and break the Ephs’ hearts. There was some controversy surrounding the winning goal, as the clock was stopped prior to the Panthers taking the telling corner kick with seconds seconds left. That said, Middlebury will advance to the semifinals where it will play Hamilton, and it’s without a doubt that the Panthers will feel they’re in a great position to advance to their first NESCAC final since 2010, when they won the crown.
Arguably the surprise of the season in the NESCAC, Hamilton advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the first time ever with a 2-1 win over Connecticut College. The host Continentals went 1-0 up in the 49th minute through Eli Morris, before Camels standout Pat Devlin bagged his 13th and final goal of the season with 22 minutes to play. The two teams couldn't be separated, so it was on to overtime. 2:49 into the extra session, Mike Lubelczyk deposited the decisive tally into the back of the net to give his team its biggest win in recent memory.
Coming into Tuesday’s regular season finale with 2-time defending NESCAC Champion Bowdoin, Tufts was 6-0-1 in its last 7 and seemed to be a lock for an NCAA bid. How things can change. Bowdoin has been Tufts’ bogey team in recent years as the Jumbos haven’t beaten the Polar Bears since the 2013 regular season, and, unfortunately for Tufts, the trend continued. After upsetting the Jumbos at home on Tuesday, 2-1, Bowdoin traveled to Tufts for its NESCAC quarterfinal and pulled off another victory by an identical scoreline. A week ago, Tufts was arguably the form team in New England, and was flying high. This week, however, the future, particularly as far as NCAAs are concerned, is less certain, although Tufts’ very good Results versus Ranked teams (RvR) and Strength of Schedule (SoS) could well propel it into the tournament.
For the Polar Bears’ part, their “reward” for beating Tufts twice in one week is a date with top-seeded in Amherst in Saturday’s semifinal. In 2013, which was the last time the two teams met in the NESCAC semis, Amherst emerged victorious in double-overtime. The next year, in the conference final, the Polar Bears downed the Jeffs on penalty kicks, giving Bowdoin its first NESCAC title. This year, Amherst edged Bowdoin on the road in the regular season battle, 1-0. However, if the 2014 season taught us anything, it’s that Bowdoin is playing its best soccer when November rolls around.
Having suffered its first defeat on Oct. 15th after a hot start, Mass-Boston has responded by going 2-0-1. Saturday, the Beacons traveled to Keene State to face the Owls, who struck first through Promise Kpee in the 68th minute. And while it might have appeared that the Owls were on course for a seismic victory, their advantage would last just 79 seconds, as Pedro De Carvalho hit back on exactly 69 minutes. From that point on, neither team was able to separate itself, and the two sides settled for a 1-1 draw.
This year’s NEWMAC tournament doesn’t start until Wednesday, when Coast Guard and Wheaton will square off in a first-round game. The winner of that game will travel to Babson for the semifinals, where it will face the two-time defending NEWMAC champion and top-seeded Beavers on their home field. The other semifinal, meanwhile, will pit Clark against Springfield, which should be an intriguing matchup. As mentioned last week, the last two times that Babson has won the conference tournament, which incidentally has been the last two years, have both been on the road at Wheaton and MIT. The last two times they’ve hosted the conference tournament (2011 and 2012), they’ve been ousted by Springfield and MIT, respectively, albeit on penalty kicks, so it will be interesting to see what the Beavers have in store this year. Regardless, you can be sure that Jon Anderson will have his team ready to take on its conference opponents on the biggest stage thus far this season.
After falling in the CCC final last year to local rival Gordon, Endicott was predicted to come back to the pack this year. Instead, the Gulls find themselves as the top seed in the conference tournament for the second year in a row. Despite defeating Gordon in this year’s regular season finale and winning 3-1 in the CCC quarters against Eastern Nazarene, Endicott will know that the job is far from done, as the Gulls also beat the Scots in last year’s regular-season finale before losing at home in the conference final. Assuming Endicott beats WNE in this week’s semifinals, which is far from a given, the conference final will prove a tough test for the Gulls even if Gordon isn’t there, as Wentworth would undoubtedly pose a hefty challenge. Either way, the fact that Endicott has secured the top seed in a year where most predicted they’d be an average team at best is impressive, and serves as further evidence that this program is headed in the right direction.
While it's fair to say that Mass-Boston hasn't been battle-tested like some of its fellow New England schools, the Beacons have a very good chance of repeating as LEC champions. That said, nothing will come lightly for the Beacons, as the road to the conference title will likely go through fellow LEC co-regular season champion Rhode Island College. Mass-Boston defeated the Anchormen in last year’s conference final, but one can be sure that RIC will be out for revenge this year. Keep an eye on the LEC conference tournament - it should be entertaining.
After an inconsistent start to the season, Brandeis has responded in a big way by winning 5 games on the bounce, the two most recent of which came in a homestead against Emory and Rochester. Friday night against Emory, the Judges defeated the visiting Eagles 2-0 with a goal in each half. Sunday afternoon, the Judges went up 1-0 over Rochester in the first half, saw the Yellowjackets equalize before halftime before going 2-1 up in the second half. While it appeared that the Judges would struggle to hold on, as the hosts were outshot 18-11, Brandeis even managed to get an insurance goal in the last 10 minutes to put an exclamation point on the final scoreline and give Mike Coven’s team arguably its most important victory of the year.
Note: Nor’easter News will be going on hiatus for the next two weeks, as I will be out of the country. That said, I hope to be back writing for the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, enjoy this weekend’s collection of contests - it should be an exciting one!
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Henry Loughlin