Athletics

Lord Jeffs Look for First Final Four Bid in 10 Years

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The 2007 Jeffs are playing this weekend for a spot in the National Semifinals.

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College men’s soccer team will travel to the home of NESCAC rival Middlebury College this weekend with hopes of emerging with a bid to the national semifinal for the first time in 10 years and just the second time in program history. The Lord Jeffs will face York (PA) College Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament Sectionals.

Amherst has posted a 15-2 overall record this season, and finished the NESCAC regular season atop the conference standings for the first time since the group went to a seven team playoff system in 2000.

In NESCAC postseason play, Amherst received a first-round bye in the conference playoffs and faced Bowdoin College in the semifinal round. Despite trailing 1-0 at halftime to the fifth-seeded Polar Bears, Amherst rallied to win the match, 2-1, and punch its ticket to the conference title game against Middlebury. In the lone match-up between the NESCAC’s top two sides during the regular season, Amherst registered a convincing 3-1 win.

The Panthers ultimately handed the Jeffs a 1-0 defeat in the title match at Amherst to grab an automatic bid to the national tournament, while Amherst was left to wait for an at-large bid. Amherst’s strong resume earned the team an opening round bye once again in the national tournament. The Jeffs hosted local rival Western New England College last Saturday night in a rematch of Amherst’s final game in 2006, when the Golden Bears knocked the Jeffs out of tournament play.

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Amherst will face York (PA) Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Middlebury College.

Amherst trailed WNEC on two different occasions last weekend, but refused to let its season be cut short by the familiar opponent. Spurned by the return of striker Jake Duker (Newton, MA), Amherst fought back to tie the score at 1-1 and 2-2, each time on a goal from the forward. With just 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Amherst senior tri-captain Taylor Downs (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY) knocked home the game-winner for the Jeffs. With the 3-2 win, Amherst was on to the Round of 16.

Amherst will face York (PA) College on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., after the Spartans defeated both Dickinson and Eastern colleges to advance through opening rounds of play. York handed Dickinson a 3-1 defeat before ending Eastern’s season with a 2-1 result. The Spartans boast an impressive 21-2 record in 2007 and feature a high scoring offense, which has been shutout just twice all season.

York’s season is highlighted by a nine-game winning streak to start the year, and then a 10-win stint immediately following that loss. The Spartans have scored five or more goals in a game on six different occasions this year, and have outscored their opponents by a combined 83-17.

While York’s attack is impressive on paper, the Amherst offense takes a back seat to none, as it led the NESCAC with 43 goals scored, to just 14 against. Amherst brings a quartet of players to the field that each currently rank in the NESCAC’s top-10 for points-per-game. That core includes senior tri-captain Ryan O’Donnell (Belchertown, MA) and junior Nick Lynch (Kingston, Jamaica), who join both Duker and Downs.

Also playing in Vermont this weekend are NESCAC rivals Williams and Middlebury. The two teams meet for the third time this season, and have become familiar post-season foes in recent history. Earlier this season, Middlebury defeated Williams 1-0 at home before the two squads tied 0-0 in the NESCAC semifinals. Middlebury advanced 3-0 on penalty kicks en route to the program’s second conference championship. The Ephs and Panthers have met twice in the NCAA Tournament, with Williams sending Middlebury home in both ’96 and ’00.

Middlebury and Williams kick off Saturday’s action at 11 a.m., with Amherst and York slated for a 1:30 p.m. start, or one half hour after the earlier game concludes. The winners of Saturday’s Round of 16 games will meet Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Sectional Finals. Whichever side can pick up a pair of wins this weekend will head to Orlando, FL next weekend with hopes for a national championship.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, this weekend’s games will not be available through any form of webcasting. Middlebury will be streaming live statistics throughout the weekend’s play.