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November 18, 2011

Men's Sectional Previews: Atlantic

Other Sectional Previews:  NORTH CENTRAL | TRANSCONTINENTAL  | NORTHEAST

By Christan Shirk

ATLANTIC SECTIONAL

at Amherst (Amherst, MA)

Sectional Webpage

Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 19-20

Third Round - Saturday, Nov. 19

Neumann (14-4-1) vs. Montclair St. (17-3-3), 11:00 am ET

Stevens (17-2-1) at Amherst (16-1-2), 1:30 pm ET

Quarterfinals - Sunday, Nov. 20

Sectional Final, 1:00 pm ET

How they reached the Sweet 16

Neumann: CSAC Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: T0-0(2ot,pk's) Salisbury | 2nd Rnd: W1-0(ot) Messiah

Montclair St.: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W5-0 Framingham St. | 2nd Rnd: W2-1(2ot) Dickinson

Amherst: NESCAC Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W3-0 Husson | 2nd Rnd: W4-2 Eastern Conn. St.

Stevens: Empire 8 Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W3-0 Lehman | 2nd Rnd: T0-0(2ot,pk's) Brockport St.

2011 Statistical Overview

Neumann: 14-4-1 (.763) | 1.86 GSA, 0.85 GAA (+1.01) | Avg. OWP: .526 | Last Ten: 8-1-1

Montclair St.: 17-3-3 (.804) | 2.40 GSA, 0.61 GAA (+1.79) | Avg. OWP: .559 | Last Ten: 8-1-1

Amherst: 16-1-2 (.895) | 2.47 GSA, 0.66 GAA (+1.82) | Avg. OWP: .568 | Last Ten: 8-1-1

Stevens: 17-2-1 (.875) | 2.10 GSA, 0.78 GAA (+1.32) | Avg. OWP: .565 | Last Ten: 9-0-1

Neumann Season Review

For Neumann, 2011 came on the heels of a historic 2010 season in which the team posted their first winning season, won their first-ever conference title and made their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. It was a short-lived tournament for the Knights who were promptly sent back home by Christopher Newport, 3-0, in the first round, but for a program in just its 15th year of existence, it was a major step forward. The team had shown a gradual improvement under head coach Kevin Sloan, now in his sixth season in charge, and the challenge was to build on that and not see a drop off. The season started 0-2 as they immediately faced two of their four tough non-conference adversaries, but taking Richard Stockton and Haverford to overtime before succumbing to defeat could almost be considered a positive for an upstart program like Neumann. They would beat Gettysburg 1-0 to get their first win and fall 4-0 to Johns Hopkins in mid-October, but it’s this type of scheduling over the past few years that is helping the team improve. Only a bad opening stanza against Rosemont that resulted in a 2-0 loss kept them from perfection in regular season conference for a second straight year, but it still was good enough finish atop the CSAC standings. The conference playoffs were no easier than the previous year, but they prevailed again for back-to-back titles and trips to the NCAA’s. With only seven shutouts in 17 games and a very ordinary 1.86 GSA and 0.85 GAA, no one was prepared for what Neumann would accomplish in just their second tournament appearance. In about 3-1/2 combined hours of soccer, they conceded no goals to Salisbury and top ranked Messiah, finding themselves in the Sweet 16 on the back of a penalty shootout victory and sudden death game-winner in one of the all-time biggest tournament upsets.

Montclair St. Season Review

Even though they failed to capture their fifth straight NJAC championship in 2010, Montclair State was the coaches’ favorite again in 2011 despite losing half their offensive production to graduation and the head coach that established them as a national power. They stayed in-house with the new hire, promoting defensive assistant Todd Tumelty who played four years (2003-06) under the out-going Brian Sentowski before joining the coaching staff. He guided the defense to a national fourth-best 0.36 GAA during the 2008 season that saw the Red Hawks win a school-record 21 games. With re-building needed in attack more than defense, the rookie coach was going to be put to the test. An inconsistent 3-1-2 start to the season that included a 1-1 trip to the northwest gave way to 9-1-0 run that could easily have been a 10-0 run if their finishing had been better against Rutgers-Camden in a 3-1 loss that was much closer than the score might suggest. The move of senior Kevin Zawelski from midfield to forward was rewarded to the tune of 11 goals and 5 assists, while sophomore midfielder Dan Mendoza, with 16 goals, has doubled his goal tally from 2010. But problems with finishing made a number of games closer than need be while the defense took the occasional night off. Overall the defense posted a solid 0.61 GAA, but the offense left a little to be desired as removing the 9-0 and 10-1 routs of John Jay and Medgar Evers yields an unimpressive 1.77 GSA. They finished second to Rutgers-Camden and the conference playoffs comfirmed the pecking order with Rutgers defeating Montclair in the final. In a less competitive Pool C than usual, Montclair was safely into the tournament with an at-large berth and a Mendoza sudden-death game-winner against Dickinson punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.

Amherst Season Review

In the five years under head coach Justin Serpone, Amherst has been the most consistently good team in the very difficult and competitive NESCAC, but only had one regular season title and one tournament title to show for it. The Lord Jeffs lost three starters to graduation which was partially offset by the return of Jae Heo from 2-years of military service in his native South Korea, made all the more important when senior forward James Mooney was not able to play this season. With the heart of their midfield gone and Mooney not able to return, it was going to be a challenge to repeat as the conference’s highest scoring offense again in 2011. But Amherst’s scoring actually rose thanks to Heo’s contribution (9g, 4a) and junior Spencer Noon getting even better (14g, 5a). The defense has a slightly higher GAA than last year, but still a net gain in goal-difference. What was expected to be a crowded conference race turned out much different than expected with Bowdoin inexplicably plummeting after a Final Four run last season and Middlebury struggling early on. It soon became a two-team race between the Amherst and the surprising Wesleyan who stayed even all season long. Amherst remained perfect in and out of conference through eight games and ties to Williams and head-to-head with Wesleyan left Amherst, who owned the tie-breaker, in great position to win the regular season title. Oddly enough, both leaders lost their final conference matches to lose their invincibility. The #1 seed was Amherst’s and for the first time since 2006 the top seed held serve and claimed the NESCAC championship. They cruised past Husson and in a chippy contest were always in control against Eastern Connecticut St. to win 4-2 and advance to the Sweet 16.

Stevens Season Review

Stevens, like Montclair State, had to deal with the departure of a highly successful coach. Tim O’Donohue left as the winningest active men’s D-III soccer coach having achieved a .844 winning percentage over his ten years in Hoboken, NJ and appearances in the NCAA tournament every single year. Instead of staying within, Devin Rensing was hired from on an interim basis after six seasons as an assistant coach at several different D-I programs. The expectations for the Ducks are always high with a conference title the minimum requirement en route to a tournament run. However, there were some very big shoes to fill with the graduation of two All-Americans, goalkeeper Zach Carr and midfielder Nolan Sandberg. But All-American defender Peter Bednarsky returned for his senior campaign along with the rest of the backline. The bigger question seemed to be where the goals would come from as no striker scored more than 6 last season. Well, it was bumpy start to the season both offensively and defensively. 1-0 win, 1-0 loss, 2-1 loss, 2-1 win, 3-2 win, 4-3 win was how the season started against a mix of opponents. Perhaps somewhat to be expected given the coaching change and loss of their two field generals. From that point, though, the defense tightened up considerably except for being caught off guard by a surprising Utica squad in the opening stanza of their Empire 8 clash. Their overall 0.78 GAA is probably not reflective of how they are playing right now, but they are also clearly not playing at the same level as last year (0.30 GAA). Scoring has come mainly courtesy of the trio of junior Zach Adler (9g, 11a), junior Victor Daza (9g, 1a), and sophomore Stephen Dunbar (8g, 3a) good for 2.10 GSA. They claimed their fifth Empire 8 championship in as many years since joining from the Skyline Conference (they had won the last three Skyline titles before the move), although they made it interesting with a pair 2-1 wins in the playoffs. In the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight year, the Ducks moved on to sectionals via a shootout victory against Brockport after 110 scoreless minutes.

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 13)

Neumann: 46-27-7 (.619) overall | NCAA's ('10-'11): 1-1-1

Montclair St.: 69-11-8 (.830) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 4-3-0, Sweet 16 - 2008

Amherst: 56-11-10 (.792) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 8-2-1, Sweet 16 - 2010, Final Four - 2008

Stevens: 68-10-10 (.830) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 7-1-5, Sweet 16 - 2009, Runner-Up - 2008

Tournament Experience

Besides Neumann, the teams in this sectional have been tournament regulars. Amherst probably gets the experience edge because of their Sweet 16 run just last year when more of this year’s squad played a part, but these are top programs whose players know the expectations and pressures that come with that. Neumann obviously comes with the least experience, but they dealt with playing the 8-time champions on their home field in front of a capacity crowd, so don’t expect any deer-in-the-headlights from them either.

Tournament Re-Matches

It should be noted that this sectional represents the only notable tournament re-match and potential re-match. The Stevens vs. Amherst game is a re-match their semifinal contest at the 2008 Final Four, won 4-1 by Stevens. If Montclair St. and Stevens would advance to the sectional final it would be a replay of their 2009 second round match, won 4-0 by Stevens.

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Neumann: Because anyone that can knock Messiah out of the NCAA tournament can send anybody home. They are in a can’t-lose situation having already far exceeded expectations and yet have the bonus of playing with a huge confidence boost. The pressure is on the other team which can work in their favor.

Montclair St.: They might have the best defense when they come to play and should be hungry to take their place in school history by advancing to the Final Four for the first time ever.

Amherst: Probably played the toughest regular season schedule of the four to prepare themselves, and have the highest scoring offense of the group and a defense comparable to the others. They have the advantage of playing at home, as well.

Stevens: They haven’t lost a tournament game in regulation since 2005 and have only conceded a game-winning goal once in that stretch of 14 games. With three main scorers it is harder for defenses to focus their efforts.

Other Sectional Previews:  NORTH CENTRAL | TRANSCONTINENTAL  | NORTHEAST

Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

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