Men's Sectional Previews: Atlantic
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Tufts (Medford, MA)
Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 18-19
Third Round - Saturday
Quarterfinals - Sunday
Sectional Final, 1:00 pm ET
How they reached the Sweet 16
2017 Statistical Overview
Tufts Season Review
Even within a given program, each year’s team is unique. This is certainly true in the case of Tufts.
When Tufts won its first national title back in 2014, the Jumbos’ roster featured an extensive amount of attacking talent that worked off a foundation of defensive solidity. 2015 saw the Jumbos reach the Sweet 16 behind incredible midfield strength and offensive dynamism. Last year yielded another national title, but the story unfolded in a much different manner from 2014: Tufts’ watertight defense proved decisive, as the Jumbos conceded just once in six NCAA games.
While there have been different narratives every season, one theme has remained constant: head coach Josh Shapiro sets up his Jumbos based on their strengths. This year, that strength is a combination of stifling midfield play and stingy defense: Tufts has conceded just one goal (back on Sept. 30). Since then, Tufts has won nine of eleven games and outscored its opponents 28-0 en route to its first NESCAC title, a triumph which was sealed with a 1-0 win over Middlebury on November 5. This past weekend, after receiving a 1st Round bye, the Jumbos faced a difficult challenge in the 2nd Round, as St. Joseph’s (Maine) took the team to penalty kicks before Tufts prevailed 4-2.
Much of Tufts’ success comes as a result of its cohesiveness as a unit, but the Jumbos do have some exceptional talent. Center back Conor Coleman, who was recently named NESCAC Player of the Year, and goalkeeper Conner Mieth (the hero of Tufts’ PK triumph on Sunday) have been the leaders of a defense that has conceded just once all season. In the midfield, first-team All-NESCAC selection Tyler Kulcsar, whose sole career goal was the winner in last year’s national title game, protects the back four, and is a tireless runner. Meanwhile, the Jumbos’ dynamic attack features stalwarts like Gavin Tasker (4g, 3a) and Kevin Halliday (4g, 2a), who are versatile attackers that can score a variety of goals. Tufts has a number of game-changers on its roster, so, should a team attempt to isolate one forward, it will do so at its own peril.
Despite having two national titles on its CV, Tufts is in a somewhat unfamiliar position this year. Instead of being the hunter, Tufts is the prey, and will undoubtedly get every opponent’s best shot. That said, with invaluable championship experience and a squad that is hungry once again, you can’t bet against the Jumbos.
Johns Hopkins Season Review
Johns Hopkins had a solid season last year, advancing to the Centennial Conference semifinals where they fell on PKs to Franklin and Marshall. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays didn't receive an NCAA bid, bringing its season to an end at 12-3-3.
This year would be a vastly different story. Not only did Johns Hopkins qualify for its first NCAA Tournament since 2010, when the Blue Jays advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row under head coach Craig Appleby, but they’ve managed to make it back to that exact round this season.
Moreover, the manner in which Appleby's team has gone about its business this year is nothing short of impressive. The squad started its season with a run of 10 straight victories, with its only defeat coming to Messiah on October 5. In that game, the Blue Jays hung tough and had a slew of chances before the powerhouse Falcons put one away late for the 1-0 result. And while the side drew its next two games, it picked up a trio of wins to close the season, before—once again—being bounced from the Centennial Conference tournament in the semifinals on PKs, this time to Dickinson.
This time, however, the Blue Jays were rewarded for their impressive body of work with an NCAA bid. And they haven't disappointed, defeating DeSales, 2-0, in the 1st Round of the tournament at Rowan, before getting by Cabrini—a surprise 1st Round winner over Rowan—in the 2nd Round by the same scoreline.
Johns Hopkins has a dangerous target man, sophomore forward Achim Younker, whose 17 goals have come against an extensive variety of opposition, including in both of Johns Hopkins' NCAA Tournament games thus far. The team's scoring doesn't just stop with Younker, however, as 11 further players have a goal for the Blue Jays.
Defensively, the Blue Jays have been impressive. Goalkeeper Bryan See, a first-team all-conference honoree, boasts a save pct. of .909 and GAA of 0.25, marks which are among the best in Division III. Additionally, defender Mike Swiercz was also a first-team honoree for the program, which has conceded just six goals this season.
With scoring threats up top and steeliness at the back, Johns Hopkins has the ideal balance to make a run. And with confidence high, this team is ready to go.
Drew Season Review
Entering November, Drew had yet to lose a game. Yet while the Rangers knew that they were a legitimate contender to go far in the NCAA Tournament, many outside Madison, NJ, weren’t so sure.
After the first weekend of NCAAs, the message is clear: this team is for real.
The Rangers romped through the regular season, winning all but once, including a victory over Mid-Atlantic powerhouse Haverford. In the playoffs, Drew didn't leave any doubt, dispatching Susquehanna, 4-0, in the Landmark Conference semifinals, before seeing off Elizabethtown in the final, 3-1. However, veteran head coach Lenny Armuth’s side wasn’t done yet: the Rangers dispatched Franklin and Marshall, 3-2, in the NCAA 1st Round, before pulling one of the shocks of the tournament in upsetting host Lycoming 1-0 in Sunday’s 2nd Round game.
Sophomore forward Aidan Cserhat leads the offense in his first season, scoring 20 goals (tied for fourth in Division III) and adding five assists. At 6'5" and with excellent skill and a great touch, he is a handful for any opposition back line, but he's not the only threat that Drew has up top. Andy Imoh (10g, 9a), Nate Race (9g, 2a), Matt Asante (6g, 3a), and Alexi Velazquez (6g) all have more than five goals for Armuth’s side.
Drew's talent isn't just limited to the attacking third, however. Defensively, Niko Cserhat—brother of Aidan and Landmark Conference Player of the Year—leads a back line that has conceded just 14 goals this season. Behind him, All-Landmark first-team goalkeeper Jason Adamo’s .854 save percentage and 0.60 GAA have earned him 10 shutouts this season (T-5th in school history), while his 21 wins in net are joint-most in school history. If Drew isn’t scoring with ease, it can certainly tighten things up at the back to keep its opponents in check.
As is the case with any good team, Drew can win games in a number of different ways. The Rangers have the technical acumen to play the ball on the ground, but they can also body up when necessary and take advantage of set piece opportunities. If one avenue isn’t working, they’ll try another one, and end up being successful much of the time. And with all but two starters returning next year, this is a team that doesn’t just have the talent to compete this year, it has the potential to contend within Division III for years to come.
Brandeis Season Review
When longtime Brandeis coach Michael Coven announced his retirement last December, following a surprise run to the Final 4, it was no surprise that longtime Brandeis assistant (2005-2012) and associate head coach (2013-2016) Gabe Margolis was appointed his successor. Margolis has long been the Judges’ tactical guru, and has played a major role in Brandeis’ success over the last five years, so the Judges were extremely lucky to have someone who already knew the program inside-and-out taking over at the helm.
For the sixth year in a row, Brandeis is in the Sweet 16. And while it would be reasonable to assume that this was simply part of natural order, it certainly wasn’t easy. For one, the Judges graduated both starting center backs and outside forwards. To make matters worse, the Judges lost their opening game (to Cortland State) for the first time since 2004. Brandeis responded well, though, reeling off five successive victories, including a 2-1 win over rival Babson on September 9. A non-conference defeat to Tufts stemmed the tide a bit, but it didn't break the Judges' momentum, as Brandeis went 7-2 through the rest of the regular season en route to finishing second in the always-competitive UAA. In the NCAA Tournament, the Judges have notched a pair of shutout wins at home over Western Connecticut, 3-0, in the 1st Round, and Rutgers-Newark, 1-0, in the 2nd Round, to advance to the Sweet 16 once again.
During its recent run of NCAA appearances, Brandeis has combined a possession style of play with speed, skill, and solidity. Center midfielder Josh Ocel (4g, 10a), a two-time D3soccer.com All-American, is an imposing figure in the center of the park. Alongside him, Christian Hernandez plays the role of destroyer in defensive midfield. Goalkeeper Ben Woodhouse—who suffered a broken hand mid-season but has made a surprising return for NCAAs, saving a penalty kick against Rutgers-Newark—has been a solid presence at the back for the Judges behind center backs Sam Vinson and Alex Walter. Up top, Mike Lynch (6g), who scored twice in last year’s Elite 8 game, has proven his penchant for the clutch in November, including game-winners in the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
At this point in the season, every opponent is sure to put its best foot forward, and the Judges will have to deal with teams looking to stifle their creativity. However, with ample NCAA experience throughout the team, Brandeis is battle-tested and ready for anyone.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 13)
Why they will advance to the Final Four
Tufts: Last year, when the Jumbos received hosting rights for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games, it remained to be seen whether Tufts could do at home what it did on the road in 2014: win those games. After seeing off Mass.-Boston and Kenyon by identical 1-0 scorelines, the answer was clear. This year, it isn’t any easier, but the result is the same. Against Johns Hopkins, Tufts gets a goal off a set piece and makes it stand up, winning a 1-0 game in scrappy fashion. This sets up a rematch with Brandeis, a team the Jumbos know all too well from their meetings in recent years. Though the Judges are hungry for revenge, Tufts sees them off once again with a solitary goal in double overtime to send the Jumbos to their third Final Four in four years.
Johns Hopkins: Going to face the defending national champions on their home field is certainly not for the faint of heart. Having seen St. Joseph’s (Maine) hold Tufts to a scoreless draw this past weekend, however, Johns Hopkins will know that it has the potential to keep the Jumbos out. And while goals against Tufts have been hard (er, very hard) to come by this year, the Blue Jays get a vital contribution from Younker as time is winding down in regulation to advance to a semifinal against Drew. In that match, the Blue Jays manage to keep Cserhat out, while also stifling his offensive compatriots. Having gotten a first half goal, Johns Hopkins finishes off a second on the counter as time is winding down, punching its ticket to Greensboro, NC in the process.
Drew: The Rangers’ storybook season continues, as Aidan Cserhat’s brace against Brandeis is enough for a 2-1 victory. This sets up a matchup with Johns Hopkins, who was a surprise winner over Tufts the day before. And while the Blue Jays give Drew everything that it can handle, taking them to overtime, Cserhat proves to be the difference once again, getting his head to a set piece that leaves See with no chance, sparks fervent celebrations from the Rangers’ fans, and sends Drew to its first Final Four since an appearance in the national title game back in 2003.
Brandeis: Last year, en route to its first Final Four in 32 years, the Judges defeated favored Amherst on penalty kicks in the Sweet 16, before downing Rutgers-Newark in the Elite 8. This year, the caliber of opposition will be equally tough, but this is a program that knows how to win. After downing Drew in a tight game, Brandeis advance to face Tufts, who saw off Johns Hopkins the day previous. And while the Jumbos will have the confidence from winning the matchup earlier in the year, this is a brand new game. This time, Brandeis gets a bounce in its favor, enabling Mike Lynch to finish from close range and sending the Judges to their second Final Four in as many years.
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