October 30, 2017

Nor'easter News - Week 9

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

Since all matchups are of added significance at this point in the season, there’s no Game of the Week this week. Yet, from Tufts securing its first NESCAC win in five years to Springfield falling to its first defeat of the season, there’s plenty to reflect upon. More importantly, however, there’s plenty to look forward to: this weekend, most leagues will crown champions. For some, it’s time to defend the glory of the past; for others, these tournaments will represent an opportunity to forge their own legacies. Either way, it should be exciting and unpredictable for players, coaches, and spectators alike.

Impressions

For a team that has won two national titles in the past three years, it might surprise you to learn that Tufts had not won a NESCAC tournament game since its 2012 victory over Bowdoin. The Jumbos made quick work of dismissing that label this year, though, with a commanding 3-0 win over Bates, a team that snuck into the final spot of this year’s tournament with seconds left in their final game (more on that below). Tufts got all the scoring it would need through Sterling Weatherbie’s first-half header, before Conor Coleman gave the Jumbos some breathing room with a second-half penalty. Calvin Aroh added some gloss to the scoreline with a late header, which put the finishing touch on an impressive victory in front of a large home crowd. The Jumbos will move on to face Hamilton, a surprise 4-3 winner over Amherst, who relinquished a 2-0 second-half lead in a barnburner of a game. Better yet for Tufts, the Jumbos will get to host the rest of the conference playoffs on their home pitch as the team pursues its first ever conference crown.

While this sounds like a fairly routine sequence of events, the location of this year’s NESCAC tournament came down to a few inches. Tuesday, in a game against their old nemesis, Bowdoin, the Jumbos had a header hit the crossbar — their own crossbar, that is — in the first overtime. Had the attempted clearance found the net, it would have been an own goal which would have given Bowdoin the win, which would have been enough for the Polar Bears to tie for the NESCAC championship and secure hosting rights by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Thankfully for Tufts, goalkeeper Bruce Johnson made a miraculous save on the follow-up while still on the ground, as it seemed certain that Bowdoin would score. And, while Johnson was injured on the play and had to be replaced by Conner Mieth, I wish him a speedy recovery — hopefully he will be back in time for his team’s run of games in November (and potentially December). For its part, Bowdoin defeated visiting Williams on PKs on Saturday, meaning that a second Tufts-Bowdoin showdown in the NESCAC final is still very much possible. First, though, the Polar Bears would have to get by Middlebury, who beat Connecticut College 1-0 in overtime on Saturday, in the semifinals. Yet, with confidence high and a 3-1 victory over Middlebury already under its belt, Bowdoin will look to establish supremacy against the Panthers in the upcoming matchup.

Though they dropped their quarterfinal matchup to Tufts, the Bobcats of Bates deserve their own section of praise for qualifying for their first NESCAC tournament since 2010. And they certainly couldn’t have picked a more dramatic way for it to happen. Needing a victory over in-state NESCAC rival Colby, it appeared that Bates would fall short, with the score deadlocked at 0–0 entering the final minute of the second overtime. But, with less than a minute remaining on the clock, Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene finished off a broken play to end the game, stun Colby (who only needed a tie to hold onto the final playoff spot), and give Bates its biggest victory in quite some time. Ultimately, the Bobcats would fall in the aforementioned defeat to Tufts three days later, but they can be proud of the character and spirit they showed throughout the season, particularly in that penultimate, fateful game.

As the regular season came to a close, it appeared that the CCC was wide open. That sentiment has continued into the postseason, with seeds one through four winning their quarterfinal matchups. Despite facing dogged resistance from eighth-seed and visiting University of New England, who admirably weathered being outshot 44-5 for 101 minutes, the top-ranked Gulls got a deserved victory from Brendan McLaughlin in the second overtime. In the #2 versus #7 matchup, host Gordon made two goals in the first six minutes stand up against Nichols, whose season comes to a close at 7-9-2. The next two matchups featured ample drama, as #3 Western New England used a penalty kick from Troy Remillard with 41 seconds remaining to get by #6 Roger Williams, while #4 Wentworth downed #5 Salve Regina after the visitors had equalized Noah Martins' opener. The top half of the bracket features a number of heavy hitters, including 2016 Champion WNE and 2015 Champion Gordon, meaning that the road to the conference title will be far from straightforward from Endicott or Wentworth, but -- having been battle-tested this past weekend -- both teams will be confident of their chances.

Friday night, under the lights of Gordon Field, Brandeis picked up a huge 2-1 double overtime victory over UAA foe Washington U. The visiting Bears, who hadn’t lost in Waltham since 1997, struck first, as striker Ryan Sproule scored a carbon copy of his goal to make it 2-0 against the Judges in 2015 — at the same end, no less. This time would be different, though, as Brandeis was able to get the equalizer 15 minutes later through Max Breiter. The rest of the game was fairly even, and regulation ended with shots at 10-10, before the Judges stole a victory with just 1:59 left in the second overtime, as Josh Ocel’s driven cross was finished by Alex Walter. On Sunday, in the final contest of the two-game home stand, the Judges fell to visiting Chicago, 1-0, as the Maroons’ Carter Romero finished an 80th minute rebound which consigned them to their first home defeat of the season. Brandeis hosts New York University next weekend, and with a 12-4 record to their credit thus far, the Judges will certainly be looking to end their regular season on a high.

Springfield fell from the unbeaten ranks with a 2-1 loss at Wheaton (Mass.) in its final game of the regular season. The Lyons jumped out to an early 1-0 lead through Curran Wait, before Amara Sesay added another goal shortly after halftime to give the hosts a commanding lead. The Pride restored some pride, however, as Brendan Claflin cut the deficit to 2-1 with 14:42 remaining, but it wasn’t enough to spur Springfield on to get an equalizer, and the Lyons — whose legendary head coach Matt Cushing passed away just before the start of the campaign — ended their season with an inspirational result under interim head coach (and 44-year Brandeis head coach) Mike Coven. Though Springfield at 15-1-1 is still the top seed for the NEWMAC tournament, opponents will be heartened by that result, knowing that it is not unassailable as perhaps previously thought. The Pride, meanwhile, will look to quell the doubters and successfully defend their title.


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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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