Men's Semifinal 1 Preview
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NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal
Friday, December 2 — 5:30 pm CT
Montclair St. (19-3-3)
Ohio Wesleyan (21-2-0)
How they reached the Final Four
Montclair St.: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W5-0 Framingham St. | 2nd Rnd: W2-1(2ot) Dickinson | Sweet 16: W2-1 Neumann | Elite 8: W1-0 Stevens
Ohio Wesleyan: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: Bye | 2nd Rnd: W1-0 Washington U. | Sweet 16: W3-2 Ohio Northern | Elite 8: W2-1 Hope
2011 Statistical Overview
Montclair St.: 19-3-3 (.820) | 2.41 GSA, 0.62 GAA (+1.78) | Avg. OWP: .574 | Last Ten: 8-1-1
Ohio Wesleyan: 21-2-0 (.913) | 3.09 GSA, 0.96 GAA (+2.13) | Avg. OWP: .595 | Last Ten: 9-1-0
Montclair St. Season Review
For the first time in five years, Montclair St. was not the defending NJAC chmapion. And despite losing half their offensive production to graduation and the head coach that established them as a national power, they again were the coaches’ favorite in 2011. The new hire came from within, promoting defensive assistant Todd Tumelty who played four years (2003-06) under the out-going Brian Sentowski before joining the coaching staff. He had 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, but 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 a 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 has been rewarded to the tune of 11 goals and 6 assists, while sophomore midfielder Dan Mendoza, with 16 goals, has doubled his goal tally from 2010. But problems with finishing left a number of games closer than need be. Removing the 9-0, 10-1, and 6-0 routs of John Jay, Medgar Evers, and CCNY during the first half of the season yields an unimpressive 1.62 GSA. Overall the defense has posted a solid 0.62 GAA, but has had the occassional game in which they seemed to allow inferior opponents a lot more cracks at goal than expected. They finished second to Rutgers-Camden in NJAC regular season play and the playoffs comfirmed the pecking order with another loss to Rutgers-Camden in the final. But at 15-3-3 Montclair was safely into the tournament with an at-large berth from a less competitive Pool C than usual.
As regional hosts, they swept aside Framingham St. 5-0 to open tournament play before edging Dickinson on a Mendoza sudden-death game-winner to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. The anticipated re-match with tournament nemisis Messiah in the sectional semifinal didn't materialize with Nuemann upsetting the defending champion, but Montclair had their hands full with the Cinderella and who knows how differently the game may have unfolded if not for Red Hawk's early goal just 70 seconds into the contest. It would be their last shot on target until the 81st minute, but neither were saved and two goals was enough for the win in a game that could have gone either way after Neumann's equalizer in the 71st minute. Given what Neumann had accomplished against Messiah it was the "W" that counted, not how they got it. The Elite 8 match with Stevens proved to be an even match between two Jersey schools who had tussled in the second round of the 2009 tournament—a 4-0 Stevens win—and neither team could find the breakthrough in the opening stanza. Stevens created more chances after the interval, but it was Montclair St. who got the all important first goal, scoring with just over 16 minutes left in regulation. There were few chances for either side after that and the Red Hawks saw out the game to secure their first-ever berth in the Final Four.
Ohio Wesleyan Season Review
An Elite 8 team a year ago that was disappointed not to have gone further, this year's squad was expected to be a title contender with a core of of five seniors led by player of the year candidate Travis Wall. And in large part they lived up to that expectation in the regular season with an 18-game winning streak sandwiched between a season-opening loss to Messiah and a conference final loss to DePauw. In those loses against tournament-bound teams they were the better side, undone by some defensive miscues. Their win streak included wins over tournament teams DePauw, Case Western Reserve, and Ohio Northern who they would faced again in the Sweet 16. The result was a Top 5 ranking all season long.
The Bishop attack is senior-driven with Travis (17g, 15a) and Matt Bofini (5g, 6a) up top, Dylan Stone (9g, 5a) in midfield, and Tyler Bryant (13g, 2a) the second leading scoring in the super-sub role. It's been a potent attack with few equals. It's the defense and goalkeeping that have hindered Ohio Wesleyan. Junior Paul Hendricks can be very good in goal, but has also made some costly errors, most originating from his penchant for coming way off his line. Having lost three starting defenders to graduation, the back line is the most inexperienced part of the lineup and as a result the most instable as Coach Jay Martin has not found who he can most rely on for two of the positions. This has resulted in several noteworthy trends that are not typical of championship caliber teams: (a) unimpressive 0.96 GAA; (b) have conceded the first goal in six games, three times in the opening five minutes; (c) in eight games have conceded a goal in the final quarter hour; and (d) five times have conceded the next goal after opening a 2-0 lead.
The Bishops avoided the curse of the first-round bye that victimized this year’s other two recipients when they defeated Washington U. 1-0 to reach the Sweet 16. As top seed Ohio Wesleyan hosted their sectional where they faced Ohio Northern for the second time. The Polar Bears might have been the only team to have out-played Ohio Wesleyan during the season despite falling by a 3-1 score, and they were riding a 12-game winning streak and firing on all cylinders. The visitors gained more control of the proceedings after an even opening half hour and the Bishops were on their heels for the final 10 minutes of the half which resulted in not only a deserved 1-0 lead for the Ohio Northern with less than 2 minutes 'til the break, but also a second with a mere 13 ticks left on the first half clock to stun the Ohio Wesleyan. Increased offensive pressure after the interval didn't result in a Bishop goal and as more time passed it became harder to imagine the 2-goal deficit being overturned. Still scoreless halfway through the period, Coach Martin adjusted the Bishop's formation to add a third forward to the attack and it paid off with with two goals in the 71st and 77th minutes to level the score. Ohio Northern tried to steady themselves but four minutes from time Travis Wall demonstrated why he’s a POY-candidate when he dribbled three defenders and buried a tough shot for the win. Hope, the surprise of the Elite 8, wasn't near as difficult a test in the sectional final and an early goal and another shortly after halftime was the minimum the Bishops deserved. Not inconsistent with their season they then seemed to ease off the pedal allowing Hope to grow and threaten which did eventually result in a late tally to make for a few nervous final minutes before Ohio Wesleyan had their spot in San Antonio reserved.
Todd Tumelty, 1st year (2011)
Overall: 19-3-3 (.820)
NCAA's (1 of 1 yr.): 4-0-0 (1.000)
Tumelty is a first-year coach, but he had been an assistant under his predecessor for four years during which time Montclair St. posted a 71-11-6 (.841) record and making the Elite 8 in 2007 and the Sweet 16 in 2008. He has now accomplished what elluded his mentor and former coach: a trip to the Final Four.
Jay Martin, 35th year (1978-2011)
Overall: 606-115-49 (.819)
NCAA's (32 of 35 yrs.): 54-23-10 (.678), Champion - 1998, Runner-Up - 1990-92, Final Four - 1981-91-01-06, Elite 8 - 1983-86-89-95-97-00-10
Coach Martin is two wins from becoming the winningest (by number of victories) men's collegiate soccer coach of all time in all divisions. He has led his team to more tournament appearances than any other college soccer coach and has more tournament victories and more Final Four appearances than any other men's college coach except for Jerry Yeagley. Only about a dozen Division III men's coaches have been coaching longer than Martin, and none of them have as good a winning percentage. The bottom-line is that no other active Division III coach has the same amount of combined experience and success.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 20)
Montclair St.: 71-11-8 (.833) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 6-3-0, Sweet 16 - 2008
Ohio Wesleyan: 76-11-5 (.853) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 8-3-0, Sweet 16 - 2008, Elite 8 - 2010
Montclair St.: Montclair St. has qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last three years but they didn't last more than two games in any year, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2008 after getting a first round bye. Moreover, the current starting lineup contains just one player who saw action in the 2008 tournament (Sean Paul as a substitute) and just three who played in the 2009 tournament loss (Pauls and William O'Connor as starters and Kevin Brown as a substitute). The Red Hawk starting line-up contains two freshmen and two sophomores, though it must be noted those sophomores were starters as freshmen. Of the eight juniors and seniors who start or get significant miuntes off the bench, two are 3-year starters and three are 2-year starters.
Ohio Wesleyan: Ohio Wesleyan has also qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the previous three years, but they have more current players who had played a part in previous years and last year the Bishops reached the Elite 8. The forward tandem of Wall and Bofini were freshmen starters in the 2008 Sweet 16 run. In fact, Bofini was the team's leading scorer that year having netted two game-winners in the tournament and a game-tying goal in their eventual 3rd round loss. In total, Ohio Wesleyan has five 3- or 4-year starters as well as 5th-year senior Tyler Bryant who was a starter as a freshman in 2007 before the Wall-Bofini duo arrived on the scene and relegated him to a role off the bench. As has been detailed above, Coach Martin is without equal in terms of experience.
On paper, Ohio Wesleyan is clearly the better and more experienced team. Their "A" game is arguably the best of all this year's top ranked teams, including Messiah, Christopher Newport, and St. Lawrence, but bringing their "A" game for 90 minutes has been a somewhat of an issue. Given the significance and stakes of a national semifinal, there's no reason to think the Bishops won't be focused and ready to go at the staring whistle; the concern would be how they deal with a lead: would they go for the kill or step off the gas. Also of concern would be the defense, especially goalkeeper Hendricks, "gifting" Montclair St. golden opportunties. The match-up would be more intriguing if Montclair St. had a more potent and varied attack to test the Bishops' defense which is their weak point. But the Red Hawks only have three players who have scored 5 or more goals which contrasts with the list of six Ohio Wesleyan players who have done so.
The Red Hawks' defense has been playing well, and since the begining of October they have only trailed twice, in the two losses to Rutgers-Camden. However, they haven't faced an attack anywhere close to what Ohio Wesleyan can throw at them while the Bishops have faced defenses on par with or better than Montclair St., including all three they faced in the tournament. Leaving out Montclair St.'s first round mismatch, Ohio Wesleyan's path to the final four was probably a little more challenging and two of their wins came much more comfortably than any of Montclair's. The Bishops three opponents, two of which were ranked in the Top 25, combined for 2.31 gpg and 0.72 gaa (+1.59) while Montclair's last three foes combine for 1.97 gpg and 0.85 gaa (+1.12) with only Stevens ranked.
It's probably more important for Montclair to avoid falling behind. Ohio Wesleyan has the fire power and game-changers to come from behind as they showed against Ohio Northern, a more complete team than Montclair St. The Bishops also have a deeper bench and have shown their flexibility to adjust formations if the game situation dictates. Montclair St. really only uses two substitutes as long as the result remains in the balance, and their time on the field together is limited. With game-changers and a deeper bench, Ohio Wesleyan would be better equiped to win if the game did go to overtime.
Finally, it must be mentioned that a pair of Ohio Wesleyan wins would give Coach Martin the career wins record for men's collegiate soccer. That will be extra motivation for the Bishops who would like nothing better than to be part of that milestone in combination with winning the national title.
Almost no matter how you look at this match-up, Ohio Wesleyan is the favorite. The only point of comparison in which Montclair St. would be given the edge is defense. Experience, leadership, game-changers, high-powered and varied attack, deep and quality bench, and coaching all point to Ohio Wesleyan. Of course, the Bishops probably know that even if they want to ignore it, and so there may be a weight of expectation they must bear that their counterparts do not. And obviously any team that reaches the Final Four is more than capable of winning, so Montclair St. should be given their due. It would be foolhardy to already pencil Ohio Wesleyan in for the final, but it's probably fair to say that the Red Hawks would need to play closer to the perfect game than Ohio Wesleyan does in order to win, . . . unless someone gifts the other side a goal. They play the game for a reason and even if the team with one of the all-time great coaches and a Player of the Year candidate is the favorite they need to go out there and earn it because Montclair St., who hasn't done so yet in four tournament games, isn't going to concede victory.
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Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Christan Shirk.