Nor'easter News - Week 3
Recap of the Week
It’s still early days, so the race for conference titles are still far from over. That being said, a number of leaders have started to emerge. In the CCC, Roger Williams and Salve Regina are both 6-0, while the NEWMAC has seen defending champion WPI emerge as the early frontrunner. Tufts and Connecticut College are the only sides still perfect in the NESCAC, but the rest of the conference seems to be incredibly even, with Williams picking up a key non-conference victory and Middlebury getting a big win over Amherst.
This week, however, there are a number of great contests on tap. In fact, this week features two games of the week, as it was too difficult to choose between two very compelling matchups.
Tufts continued its perfect start to the season with another two wins this weekend, but they didn’t come as easy as some might think. Saturday afternoon, the Jumbos had to overcome dogged resistance from visiting Bates, who held the hosts scoreless throughout the entirety of regulation, while creating some chances of their own. Eventually, though, the Jumbos were able to find the winner, with Sterling Weatherbie heading home from a corner. The next day, Tufts traveled to NEWMAC side Wheaton (Mass.), where two first-half goals were enough to see off the host Lyons, who breached the Tufts defense for the first time this year with a goal late in the second half. Earlier, the Jumbos saw off visiting Keene State, 3-0, and will travel to Brandeis for a Friday night matchup.
Amherst and Williams, who will do battle on Saturday (more on that below) have both recorded two wins in their first three games. At 2-0-1, Williams appears to be off to a good start under fourth-year coach Erin Sullivan, who was the goalkeeper on that aforementioned 1995 National Championship team. In the team’s opener on September 8th, the Ephs hammered five goals past visiting Trinity (Conn.), before settling for a 0-0 draw with Colby the following Saturday. Sunday, however, saw the Ephs beat visiting Babson in thrilling fashion, as Demian Gass scored with just 19 seconds left in regulation to give Williams the 2-1 win. For its part, Amherst (2-1) has started well, too. The Mammoths opened with a 7-0 drubbing of Wentworth, as highly-touted freshman German Giammattei scored two on his collegiate debut. Amherst then traveled to Bowdoin, picking up a 1-0 win. The Mammoths’ next road trip didn’t yield as good of a result, as Middlebury struck late, handing Amherst its first loss of the year. All this in mind, Saturday’s game should be a spectacle.
To the surprise of many (said half in jest), St. Joseph’s (Maine) conceded a goal in September. The Monks, who set an NCAA record for consecutive shutout minutes last year (1,706), went 1-0 down against Johnson and Wales on Saturday, before rallying back for the 3-1 win. Earlier in the week, St. Joseph’s rolled to a 7-0 win at Rivier. Based on this start, as well as the amount of returning personnel, the Monks should be the favorites for a third-consecutive GNAC title.
In the CCC, many predicted that the conference title would once again come down to North Shore sides Endicott and Gordon. Instead, at this point, it's a pair of Rhode Island teams who lead the standings. Roger Williams and Salve Regina sit joint-top of the table with identical 6-0 records. Roger Williams saw off NEWMAC side MIT on Wednesday in overtime, 1-0, before getting another 1-0 win on the road at Nichols. Salve, meanwhile, got a 4-1 win at MASCAC side Mass-Dartmouth before downing Curry at home. Of course, it’s still early in the season and much can change — but, based on early evidence, these two teams will believe they are in the hunt for the conference crown.
WPI has started well in the NEWMAC, going 5-0-1 during its first six matches. Perhaps the most impressive performance thus far has been a 1-0 overtime win at home against Brandeis. In that game, the hosts came out the stronger of the two, but Brandeis had a spell in the second half where it looked to cause some danger. WPI almost stole it late when an attacker broke in and missed wide with 23 seconds left in regulation, but the Engineers — who would go on to draw Saturday with Babson — got their rewards when Frank Ciliberto curled home a free kick off the underside of the bar in the first overtime, giving the Engineers their fifth win of the season and their first victory over Brandeis since 2009. As for the Judges, who are now 2-3, three losses in September isn't completely new territory — Brandeis suffered that number of September setbacks in 2016 yet turned it around to snag an NCAA bid and make the Final Four — but playing "catch up" is always dangerous. Either way, it’s clear that they can’t afford many more blemishes if they hope to return to the NCAA tourney.
Upcoming Games of the Week:
Williams vs. Amherst
As two of the foremost liberal arts colleges in New England and the nation, Williams and Amherst compete everywhere — from student recruitment to sports fields. And while there are a number of compelling sports battles between these two schools, perhaps none more famous than the football battles that comprise “The Biggest Little Game in America,” there has been no shortage of drama when the Ephs and Mammoths men’s soccer teams do battle.
For a number of years, Williams was the gold standard for men’s soccer in New England. Legendary head coach Mike Russo led the team to a National Championship in 1995. Following that title, the Ephs made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in 12 years, won five NESCAC titles between 2001 and 2006, and produced numerous All-Americans. Even a NESCAC semi-final defeat in 2007 still saw the team make an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.
When coach Justin Serpone arrived at Amherst in 2008, the balance of power began to shift from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley. That year, Amherst beat Williams in the regular-season matchup, won the NESCAC title, and made a run to the Final 4.
The next year, Williams got revenge, beating Amherst, winning its own NESCAC title, and made its own run to the Final 4. Amherst had the better seasons the next two years, winning the NESCAC title in 2011 and making Sweet 16 appearances both years.
2012 would perhaps be the most drama-filled year to date. The two teams battled to a scoreless regular season draw, before Amherst beat Williams in the NESCAC title game. The Ephs would have the last laugh in the Elite 8, however, as — despite host Amherst hitting the woodwork five times — Williams won on PKs, sending Russo and his team back to the Final 4. The next year followed a similar script — Amherst won the regular season meeting in overtime, beat the Ephs in the NESCAC final, but were edged at home in the Elite 8, as Chris Conder’s late free kick saw Williams head back to the Final 4.
2014 saw Amherst get a measure of revenge in Russo’s final season, winning 4-1 at home. In 2015, Amherst — who would go on to win the national title that year — won in Williamstown in the final minute of 2OT. The next year, Williams rallied from 2-0 down on the road to get back to 2-2, before Amherst pulled away with two late goals to win 4-2. Last year, Williams snapped a three-game skid against their rivals, settling for a 1-1 draw in Williamstown.
Regardless of whether one of these two teams is up or down, these matchups are always close. However, this matchup appears to be the most even it has been in years — and there will no doubt be some fireworks this weekend in Amherst.
Brandeis vs. Tufts
The 2012 NCAA Tournament selection show yielded two resurgent New England teams who were making their first NCAA appearances in more than a decade. Brandeis, the 1976 National Champion, was selected for the first time since 1985, while Tufts earned a bid for the first time since 1996. While these two teams didn't get to play one another, they were in the same pod for the opening two rounds, and the Judges and Jumbos would have seen one another play that weekend. Little did anyone know at the time that, over the next five seasons, they would emerge as top contenders — both within the New England region and throughout Division III: Tufts went on to win two national titles (2014 and 2016) and a NESCAC title in 2017, while Brandeis has made two Final 4 appearances (2016 and 2017) and won its own UAA conference title in 2015.
During the aforementioned time period, there have been a number of intriguing contests between these two teams. In 2013, the Jumbos bossed the visiting Judges, 2-0. The next year, Brandeis returned the favor, winning 2-0 at home against Tufts with two goals in the last 12 minutes. 2015 saw the Judges go on the road to then-defending champion Tufts and win 1-0, handing the Jumbos their first setback of that season. The next year, Tufts stole a road win in the final minute of 2OT, catching Brandeis on the break. Last September, the Jumbos took the regular season battle at home, 1-0, and it seemed that the Jumbos would be able to retain bragging rights for another 12 months. Just two months later, however, Brandeis got revenge in the Elite 8, beating host Tufts 1-0 in 2OT to advance to its second Final 4 in as many years.
Over the years, these games have made for compelling entertainment. Both teams like to keep the ball on the ground but can play direct when necessary. Both teams are athletic and physical, and go hard into the tackle. Most importantly, both teams play to win. And while Tufts’ strong campaign thus far contrasts with Brandeis’ inauspicious start, recent history suggests that this will be a close, entertaining game.
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Henry Loughlin