September 24, 2018

Nor'easter News - Week 4

GNACBy Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

As the temperatures begin to cool, there seems to be some solidifying of teams’ positioning within a number of conferences, Tufts and Connecticut College appear to be the two frontrunners, while St. Joseph’s (Maine) and Thomas have emerged at the top of the GNAC and NAC, respectively. Elsewhere, the NEWMAC and CCC have yet to produce a clear favorite, although a betting man might put money on Babson or WPI in the former and Roger Williams in the latter. And, within those conferences, there are a number of teams looking to unseat those higher up in the table.

Impressions

Saturday afternoon, Williams notched its first regular-season win over longtime rival Amherst since 2009, defeating the Mammoths 2-1 at Hitchcock Field. The Ephs, who had also bounced Amherst from the Elite 8 in 2012 and 2013 (in Amherst, no less), opened the scoring early in the second half, as Gregory Andreu finished after a scramble in the box. 16 minutes later, Chris Fleischer hit a high, arcing shot past Amherst goalkeeper Michael Stone for a 2-0 advantage. While it might have appeared that the result was done and dusted, reality couldn’t have been further from the truth — Amherst has made a habit over the years of rallying from late-game deficits. This proved to be the case, as the Mammoths pulled a goal back through Sebastian Derby with exactly five minutes on the clock. And when the hosts earned a penalty kick with less than two minutes remaining, it seemed that the tale of Amherst getting out of jail was about to be retold. Williams goalkeeper Aaron Schein decided to write his own history, however, diving low to his left to stop (and hold) the penalty kick. And while another Amherst player went down in the box inside the last minute, there would be no second penalty — Williams had done enough to beat Amherst for its biggest win since...well, 2013’s Elite 8 win over Amherst! The Ephs weren’t able to maintain their form, losing 2-0 at Bates on Sunday, as Eric Opoku scored two second-half goals two minutes apart, but Saturday’s rivalry victory will have given Erin Sullivan’s team plenty of confidence.

Defending NESCAC Champion Tufts continues to steamroll through its regular season campaign. Friday night at Brandeis, the Jumbos exacted a slice of revenge against the Judges — who bounced Tufts from last year's NCAA Tournament in the Elite 8 — winning by a score of 2-1. The visitors wasted little time, getting the jump just 79 seconds into the match, after the Judges misplayed a ball in front of the net and Gavin Tasker was there to pounce. Less than 10 minutes later, the Jumbos had their second goal, with Zach Lane heading home. And while Brandeis pulled a second-half goal back through Jake Warren, Tufts held on for a deserved victory. For Brandeis, now 3-4-0, there is very little margin for error if the Judges want to make this year's NCAA tourney, as — in addition to home tests against non-conference foes Wheaton (Mass.) and Amherst — the Judges have yet to play any of their 7 UAA games. Tufts, however, will be quite content with this result (and its form) as it heads into a pair of difficult home tests against Wesleyan and Amherst this week.

Elsewhere in the NESCAC, Conn. College is also perfect, going 7-0 to start the season. The Camels, who made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995 last year, have picked up where they left off last year, rolling past conference (Middlebury, Trinity (Conn.), Hamilton, and Colby) and non-conference (Mitchell, Endicott, and Mass-Boston) foes alike. The Camels feature a balanced attack, with six players recording multiple goals, while sophomore goalkeeper AJ Marcucci — who earned NESCAC Rookie of the Year accolades last season — has only conceded one goal (a penalty kick in the 4-1 win over Endicott). Conn. still has a number of tough tests to come, starting with this Saturday’s home match against Williams, but, based on its start thus far, one might imagine that the road to the NESCAC title will travel through New London.

At this time, the NEWMAC appears to be wide open. Defending champion WPI has made a strong start at 5-1-2, including victories over Wesleyan and Brandeis, but has drawn both of its conference matches, leaving it third-bottom. The Engineers’ lone defeat of the year came at home to defending CCC Champion Endicott, who is trying to get its head back above water after a 1-4 start. Meanwhile, Wheaton, who currently sits atop the conference with a 2-0-0 NEWMAC record, is 5-4-0. Between them are a number of teams — Babson (3-1-3 / 1-0-1), Clark (7-1-0 / 1-1-0), Springfield (5-3-0 /1-1-0), and Emerson (2-5-0 / 1-1-0). Out of those three, Babson appears to be the most likely to challenge, as the Beavers have gotten victories over Brandeis and Springfield with the lone defeat coming due to a last-minute goal on the road at Williams. The NEWMAC tournament has had its fair share of surprises over the years — fun fact: the conference tournament’s top seed has not won the NEWMAC title since 2010 — and there’s every indication that this year could follow suit.

In the CCC, Roger Williams has quietly made an impressive start to the season, chugging along at 9-0-0. The Hawks, who have beaten the likes of traditional NEWMAC contenders Wheaton (Mass.) and MIT this season, have scored 16 and conceded 4, and are led by Stathi Panagiotidis' 4 goals and 1 assist. It should be noted that the Hawks still have a number of tough contests ahead — they are yet to play any of the five CCC teams who were picked above them in the conference pre-season poll, and will face a tough test at defending NEWMAC Champion WPI on Wednesday — but, based on this evidence, the Hawks could be positioned to make a run at their first CCC crown since 2006.

9-0-0 St. Joseph's (Maine) continues to roll, with its latest triumph coming in Saturday's 4-0 victory over Regis (Mass.). Midfielder Cody Elliott scored once and bagged three assists as the Monks notched yet another victory at home — St. Joseph’s has not lost a game on its new turf field, which was in place starting last year. And while they are the favorites for the GNAC title around halfway through the regular season, the Monks will be well aware that their conference opponents would love nothing more than to knock this team off. But with watertight defense (just 1 goal against this season) and an offense that appears to be firing, it’s hard to envision any other team celebrating the conference title come November.

Another strong team from the Pine Tree State continuing to fly under the radar is Thomas. The Terriers, who compete in the NAC and won the 2015 conference crown, are currently 8-1-0, with the only defeat coming to crosstown foe Colby, 2-1. Having already played one NESCAC side, Thomas will play both of the other Maine schools in that conference — Bowdoin (away) and Bates (home) — which will probably prove the Terriers’ two toughest tests in the rest of their regular season. If they can get a result in one or both of those games, it would further boost Thomas’ in-region profile and cement its status as favorite for the NAC title.

Upcoming Game of the Week: Tufts vs. Amherst

While it didn't win another national title last year, Tufts did have a season to remember. The Jumbos rolled through the regular season and NESCAC tournament, scoring 40 goals and conceding just one. That one goal, however, was the tally that sunk Tufts in a 1-0 defeat at Amherst, an own goal that came against the run of play; Tufts bossed the shot count that day, 22-8, but the Mammoths came out on top where it mattered. Of course, the loss didn’t stunt the Jumbos’ progress — they won the conference title and made it further than any NESCAC team in the NCAA Tournament — but that defeat will no doubt be on the minds of both teams when they meet Saturday.

Between 2014 and 2016, both teams won national titles — Tufts in 2014 and 2016; Amherst in 2015 — and each team won the regular-season encounter once, with the third ending in a draw. In 2014, Tufts took a 1-0 lead at home against Amherst, but had to share the points after Amherst drew even on a PK. The next year, host Amherst got a goal in the second overtime from Nico Pascual-Leone to win 1-0. The third of those battles produced the most emphatic result — a 3-0 home win for Tufts, its first victory over Amherst since 2005.

The teams’ fortunes have contrasted thus far this season — Tufts is 6-0-0; Amherst is 2-2-0. Record counts for little in these games, however, as, last year, Amherst (2-1-1 at the time) beat Tufts (6-0-1 at the time) when the odds appeared largely in the Jumbos’ favor. Assuming this match has the same characteristics — chippy, physical, entertaining — that recent meetings have, it’s reasonable to expect this game will be worth watching.

 


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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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