|Tufts celebrate their third title in five years.|
Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com
With three national titles in the past five years, it seems that the Jumbos have cemented a legacy as a D-III soccer powerhouse. The entertainment of yesterday’s semifinals spilled into today’s final contest as No. 2 Tufts and No. 4 Calvin—a rematch of the 2016 edition—fought back and forth in cold, rainy conditions for all the marbles. An early goal in just the second minute set the pace for Tufts whose organized, hard-working defense stymied waves of dynamic Calvin attacks over the 90 minutes. The Jumbos capitalized on the opportunities they got in front of the net. And though the Knights had almost double the shots and were able to pull one back, they ultimately could not do enough in a tight 2-1 loss.
Before fans could get their gloves and hats on to settle in for this one, the action had already begun in a big way. Just under two minutes in, a loose ball in the box popped out to Tufts defender Calvin Aroh who hit a low shot that deflected into the back of Knights’ net. Not a bad time to get your first goal of the season.
|Sophomore defender Calvin Aroh (r.) celebrates his first goal of the season.|
It was a dream start for Tufts, but Calvin knew there was a lot of soccer left to be played and brushed themselves off and started running at the Tufts backline. The Knight’s flying dynamic attack—the most potent in the nation—caused quite a few problems for the Jumbos in the first half and Tufts keeper Colin Meith was forced to make some big plays to maintain his side’s advantage. Calvin were awarded a few free kicks in dangerous places around the top of the 18, but were unable to land one in the back of the net.
Instead, it would be Tufts to get on the scoresheet again. In the 28th minute, Tufts’ Zack Lane missed a sitter of a chance about six yards out, misfiring to Calvin keeper Chris Moorish who probably felt a sigh of relief to have that one safe in his hands. As a forward, those are the moments in big games you wish you could have back but don’t often get back. This would not prove to be true for Lane, however. Just a minute later, the forward snuck one in, diving to get his head on the end of a corner that bounced in front of the Calvin net.
That second goal merely increased the intensity of the match which was already a physical one to say the least. It was end-to-end stuff as both teams were relentlessly dangerous in the final third and the defenses—both ranked top 10 nationally—continued to snuff out the threats. It looked as if Tufts had extended their lead to three just before half, however, the goal in the 40th minute was called back for offside.
At the end of the first 45, Tufts held just a slight lead in shots (5-4) and a bigger one in corners (12-3) and fouls (12-6).
Calvin came out raring and ready to go from the start of the second half, pushing a lot of numbers forward and playing with, it looked at times, almost a two-back line. That sort of all-in mentality paid off in the 50th minute when the Knights were awarded a penalty kick. A Calvin attacker was driving toward the Tufts’ net but his progress was severely hindered by some—what replays would clearly show—nefarious shirt-tugging by a Tufts defender. A spot kick was awarded and up stepped Hunter Olson who sent Meith the wrong way after a windy run up for his 15th goal of the season.
In the back half of the second period, the game was injected with a burst of energy after two great chances from Calvin in the 65th and 68th minutes. It became clear that Calvin was going to throw the kitchen sink at the Tufts defense in hopes of breaking their national championship curse.
It wasn’t just Tufts backline that was doing the work to maintain the one goal lead. All around the field, the Jumbos put pressure and had a handful of guys in every which direction no matter where the ball was on the pitch, a tactic and work rate that Coach Josh Shapiro has instilled in this squad all season.
The final minutes were nervy ones for Tufts fans. Calvin put up four shots and had three corner kicks in the last 10 minutes of the game, but the ball just did not want to go in for the Knights. Valiant efforts, particularly by Tufts’ Jackson Najar who was sweeping up everything in his vicinity, ensured that the Jumbos held onto their 2-1 lead as the clock struck 0:00. At the end of the contest, Calvin led Tufts in shots (13-5) and corners (6-4). A staggering 30 fouls were racked up between the two teams.
The runs to the national final have been cruelly bitter for one of these programs and ethereally sweet for the other. Tufts is three-for-three in national championship matches (all of which have come in the past 5 years). Meanwhile Calvin has been remarkably consistent and successful in their history but has been unable to clinch that elusive national title in four trips to the final.
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