November 6, 2017

Nor'easter News - Week 10

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

This past weekend was predicted to be exciting, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Both underdogs (WPI) and favorites (Tufts) alike made runs to their first conference NEWMAC and NESCAC titles, respectively, while Endicott, the CCC Champion, earned its first NCAA bid in program history. Elsewhere, St. Joseph’s (Maine) capped its regular season with a 1-0 victory over Norwich in the GNAC final, and is still yet to give up a goal. Last but not least, a shoutout to the region's other conference champions: Mitchell (NECC), Western Connecticut (LEC), Castleton (NAC), and Salem State (MASCAC).

It isn’t just the conference champions that will be extending their seasons, though. As usual, the region had a number of teams receive at-large bids to NCAAs, as Amherst, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Connecticut College, Middlebury, and Springfield will all play at least one more game this week.

Apologies to those with short attention spans (I’m certainly in that group) for the length of this column, but there’s a lot to recap. With that in mind, let’s get going!

Impressions

All teams that won conference titles deserve commendation, but I think particular praise has to go to the Gulls of Endicott. When Endicott lost in the CCC final back in 2015 against rival Gordon, it seemed that Endicott’s best chance to win a conference title and get the program’s maiden NCAA bid might have slipped by. Two years later, the Gulls have proved the doubters wrong in winning their first CCC title and earning the program’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament. Led by seventh-year head coach Joe Calabrese, Endicott has been a program on the rise for a number of years, notching notable wins over NESCAC sides like Tufts (2016) and Trinity (Conn.) (2017), as well as draws against perennial powers Calvin and Williams in 2015. However, the squad dropped some close games this year at home against out-of-conference foes Conn. College, Babson, and Johnson and Wales, as well as being upset on the road at University of New England, so it remained to be seen whether the Gulls had the mental strength to pull through, exorcise the demons of 2015, and win the conference title. After getting by University of New England in 2OT last weekend, 1-0, Endicott hosted Wentworth in the CCC semifinals on Wednesday. And, though the Gulls gave up a second-half equalizer, they pulled through in overtime to set up a rematch of the 2015 conference final with Gordon, whom the Gulls had drawn 0-0 with during this year’s regular season. This time, Endicott got the job done, as Dario Neukom finished on a breakaway with 15 seconds left in the first overtime, giving Endicott the 1-0 win, silencing the critics, and sending the home faithful wild. It’s been a long time coming, but this team has arrived, and Endicott will no doubt enjoy its NCAA 1st Round game against NEWMAC power Springfield on Saturday at Amherst.

Another team that “finished the job” -- albeit perhaps less surprisingly -- was Tufts. The two-time national champion Jumbos had yet to win a NESCAC title, and while Tufts’ national success certainly compensated for a lack of a conference title, you can be certain that head coach Josh Shapiro’s side was hungry to add conference honors to its CV. Saturday, against Hamilton, Tufts scored early and often, as Kevin Halliday got things started in the first half with a goal-of-the-season contender, sending a curling rocket from 25 yards out for a 1-0 Jumbos lead at half. Halliday increased the advantage early in the second half with a similarly impressive shot from a free-kick to make it 2-0, before Joe Braun and Jack Delaney added late goals to seal the deal. That win advanced Tufts to its first NESCAC final on Sunday, where it faced Middlebury, a team that the Jumbos had routed 4-0 at home on Oct. 7. And though this game was much closer and the visiting Panthers threatened early, Brett Rojas’ goal with less than three minutes remaining gave Tufts its first -- and I’d say a fully-deserved given its 15-1-2 season thus far -- conference title. The Jumbos were rewarded with a first-round bye, and will face the winner of Saturday’s match between St. Joseph’s (Maine) vs. Mitchell in Medford on Sunday. While Tufts is the most celebrated of the three teams in its pod, the Jumbos know that nobody can be taken lightly at this point in the season. There are a number of uncertainties in soccer, but one thing is for sure: Tufts will come out hard and be ready for battle, regardless of the team standing on the other side of the pitch.

As the No. 5 seed, Middlebury’s trip to the NESCAC final was far from straightforward. First, in the quarterfinals, the Panthers had to go on the road to Connecticut College to face a team that had defeated Middlebury 2-1 in Vermont back on Sept. 9. In that match, Brandon Reid scored four minutes into overtime to give the Panthers the opportunity to move on to the semifinals, where Middlebury would face Bowdoin, who downed the visiting Panthers 3-1 in the regular season. This time, the game would remain scoreless until the 105th minute, when Drew Goulart sent an effort past Bowdoin netminder Stevie van Siclen to give the Panthers a momentous win in head coach David Saward’s final year. And while Sunday’s defeat to Tufts wasn’t the NESCAC ending Saward wished for, he’ll get to finish his career with an NCAA Tournament appearance, Middlebury’s first since 2010, as the Panthers will play Empire 8 power Stevens at Cortland State. This team hasn’t been highly-ranked or celebrated as much as some of its conference foes, but with a coach in the twilight of his career and a group of players who are hungry, don’t bet against this team making a run.

There is exactly one team left in the country that hasn’t conceded a goal: St. Joseph’s (Maine). And while the odds of the 18-0-1 Monks giving up their first goal of the season are likely to increase drastically as the quality of competition increases, you have to admire the way the team has gone about its business this year, with a deserved 1-0 win over NESCAC semifinalist Bowdoin being particularly worthy of praise. Unsurprisingly, this defensive prowess made St. Joseph’s the overwhelming favorite for the GNAC crown. Instead of losing focus in these must-win games, the Monks handled the pressure very well -- the quarterfinals and semifinals saw head coach Adrian Dubois’ team see off challenges from Suffolk and Regis (Mass.), setting up a meeting with Norwich in the conference final on Saturday. In that game, playing against the only team to give St. Joseph’s a blemish this year (a 0-0 tie on Sept. 16), the Monks got an early goal from Cody Elliot, and made it stand up for a 1-0 victory. Should St. Joseph’s get by NECC Champion Mitchell on Saturday at Tufts, the Monks would have the daunting task of playing against the defending national champion Jumbos, but this team would undoubtedly be up to the challenge.

Springfield has garnered much of the attention in the NEWMAC thus far this year -- and rightly so, considering the top-seeded Pride didn’t lose a game until Oct. 28. Elsewhere in the conference, however, the second-seeded Engineers of WPI have put together a solid season, going 13-5-2 and testing themselves against out-of-conference opponents like Brandeis, Endicott, and Wesleyan. As such, it was fitting that Springfield and WPI met in the conference final, where -- for the second time this season -- the two teams drew 0-0 after 110 minutes, necessitating a penalty shootout to decide the conference title. Goalkeeper Connor Hoeckele came up huge for the Engineers, saving 3 Springfield penalties, enabling Ryan Stokes to clinch WPI’s first NEWMAC title. Stokes didn’t disappoint, sending the traveling fans wild and sending WPI to its first NCAA tournament since 1992, where it will face SUNYAC powerhouse Oneonta State. Springfield did, however, make it into the tournament via an at-large selection, and will play its first-round match against Endicott at Amherst.

Come NCAA Tournament selection time, there are usually a few surprises, both in terms of teams getting picked and being passed over. And while Middlebury had been the NESCAC’s “surprise” (omission) in 2015 and 2016 before making it this year, this year’s conference surprise was a much happier one: Connecticut College. Despite losing All-American Pat Devlin to graduation this past spring, the Camels put together a very impressive September, going 6-0-3, including a 0-0 tie at Tufts, behind impressive play at both ends of the field from first-year AJ Marcucci in goal and junior forward Ben Manoogian. October was much more ominous for Conn., though, as it picked three one-goal losses, capped by a 1-0 overtime setback to Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinals. That left Conn. at 9-3-4, and, for many, on the outside of the bubble. Instead, head coach Ken Murphy’s Camels were rewarded with an NCAA bid and a trip to Oneonta State to face Rochester. Having watched plenty of the Yellowjackets in recent years, I’m excited for this matchup -- Rochester is a physical, athletic, and skilled side that is always a tough out, and will give Conn. as tough of a test as it’d get in its league games. Yet with a spring in its step after its surprise selection, you can be sure that Conn. will like its chances in its first NCAA game since 1995 (and second in history).

After losing in its first game against Cortland State, I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how the year would go for Brandeis. To their credit, the Judges turned things around in a big way, putting together a very respectable 13-4 regular season. Still, the team had 2 non-conference defeats prior to starting conference play (the other being to Tufts), and, given the toughness of the UAA, I wasn’t confident that another NCAA appearance would be on the cards. I should have known that head coach Gabe Margolis -- who previously served as assistant (2005-2012) and associate head coach (2013-2016) -- would keep Brandeis on track, as the team picked up crucial 2OT victories against Emory and Washington U. en route to a 5-2 UAA mark, good for second in the conference. As such, following Saturday’s 1-0 win against New York University in the regular season finale, Brandeis was rewarded with its sixth-straight NCAA appearance, and will play at home in the first round against Western Connecticut. Should the Judges advance, they would play the winner of Bowdoin and Rutgers-Newark. Brandeis has history with both teams, defeating Bowdoin, 1-0, in the 2014 NCAA 2nd Round, also at home, and defeating Rutgers-Newark, 4-2, in the 2016 NCAA Elite 8, at Amherst. Having had its season ended by the Judges in recent years, both teams would be hungry at the prospect of revenge. Yet with a veteran side that can win a game a variety of different ways, Brandeis is ready.

One exceedingly dangerous side that has seemingly flown under the radar this year is 11-3-2 Amherst. And, if I had to guess, that’s just how head coach Justin Serpone would’ve wanted it, as his sides seem to play their best as underdogs. Just look at the team’s results in September: after starting an inauspicious 1-1-1, including defeat to Middlebury (its first regular season home loss since 2011), Serpone’s team picked up a pair of huge wins against a pair of eventual conference champions: NESCAC foe Tufts (the Jumbos’ only defeat of the season) and NJAC winner Rutgers-Newark. And despite bowing out at home in the NESCAC quarterfinals to Hamilton, throwing away a 2-0 lead in the process, this is not a team to be taken lightly. The Mammoths have their work cut out for them in the opening round against MASCAC Champion Salem State, and will undoubtedly have to wear the tag of “favorite,” at least for one game. Moreover, the Vikings will sense the opportunity to play against a team that is not infallible, and they might feel that this is the best time to play Amherst. That would be a huge mistake, however, as there’s never a good time to play Amherst -- the Mammoths are dangerous as ever. Make no mistake, Amherst is a wounded animal -- and is ready to face any prey that comes its way.

With the NCAA Tournament upon us (and sectional previews coming up next week), this is the last week of the year that Nor’easter News will be published. That said, I would like to thank all of you for reading -- whether occasionally or regularly -- this season, and good luck to your teams moving forward.

By Henry Loughlin

  


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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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