Amherst Set to Host NCAA Sectional Weekend
AMHERST, Mass. -- After a 4-0 triumph over Dickinson in second-round play Sunday, the No. 2 Amherst College men's soccer team will host the NCAA Championship's sectional semifinal and final rounds this weekend at Hitchcock Field. The Lord Jeffs will battle Swarthmore Saturday at 1:30 p.m., with Brandeis and Williams clashing in the day's first conetst at 11 a.m. The winners will square off on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
A live webcast will be provided for all weekend games. Click here.
Ticket prices will be $6 for adults, $3 for Senior Citizens and students with a valid ID, and $2 for children ages 3-12. Tickets will be available for sale beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.
No. 2 Amherst College Lord Jeffs (16-0-2, 8-0-2 NESCAC)
Amherst has become a perennial power on the NCAA scene, reaching the championship tournament for the seventh consecutive year and 12th time overall. The Jeffs have appeared in the event in each of head cocah Justin Serpone’s six years at the helm, and after a win last weekend, own a 16-8-6 overall record in championship play.
This weekend marks Amherst’s third consecutive trip to the round of 16. In last year’s tournament, the sectional rounds came to Hitchcock Field, but the Jeffs’ run stopped in Saturday’s semifinal, with Stevens earning a 2-1 win. Amherst was also stopped in the third round in the 2010 Championship, with host Bowdoin advancing past the Jeffs on penalty kicks. The program’s highest finish in the tournament came in 2008, when Amherst advanced to the national semifinals before falling to Stevens, 4-1.
Saturday will mark a rematch of that season’s sectional semifinal between the Jeffs and Swarthmore, a game in which Amherst triumphed, 1-0, thanks to a late first-half goal from then-rookie Jae Heo ’14, who would take the next two seasons off for military service in his native South Korea before returning to Amherst in 2011. James Mooney ’13E was also a part of the 2008 Amherst squad before missing a year due to injury.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Amherst’s only blemishes during a dominant regular season came in draws with Little Three rivals Wesleyan and Williams. After losing a coin flip to the Ephs, the Jeffs entered the NESCAC tournament as the second seed, but dispatched of Middlebury, 4-0, and Wesleyan, 1-0, to earn a rematch with Williams in the conference final on Nov. 4. Scoring twice in the first half, Amherst held on for a 2-0 triumph, giving the Jeffs their second consecutive NESCAC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA field.
Ranked second nationally, Amherst was awarded a first-round bye in the tournament, with the Jeffs resting Saturday before hosting Dickinson in Sunday’s second-round match. While Amherst pulled away for a 4-0 victory, the game remained tense well into the second half, with the Jeffs grabbing a 1-0 edge early on a Max Fikke ’14 goal but not finding breathing room until a nine-minute spurt beginning in the 63rd in which Amherst tallied three goals to seal the deal. Leading the surge was Spencer Noon ’13, who scored twice, while Greg Singer ’16 provided a spark off the bench with a goal and an assist.
SCOUTING THE LORD JEFFS
It has all started with defense for the nation’s second-ranked team. Headed by co-captain and All-NESCAC first team pick Chris Lerner ’13 and second-team all-leaguer Julien Aoyama ’14, Amherst’s top-ranked backline leads the nation in goals-against average (0.11) and shutouts (16), having allowed just two goals in 2012. When the ball does reach him, rookie standout Thomas Bull '16 has been phenomenal, leading the nation in save percentage (.939) and GAA (0.11). While Lerner and Aoyama frequently control the game from their outside back spots, Gabriel Wirz ’15 and Ben Norton ’13 have been equally stout in the center of the defense and midfielders Brendan Caslin ’14 and Federico Sucre ’13 have consistently helped shut down opponents’ trips into the Amherst half as well.
Meanwhile, Amherst boasts the NESCAC’s highest scoring offense and the nation’s seventh-ranked unit, averaging an even three goals per contest. The Jeff attack features seven players with at least 10 points, led by Noon’s league-leading 13 goals and 31 total points. The 2011 NESCAC Player of the Year and a 2012 first-team all-conference pick, Noon is the first person in program history to crack the 100-point plateau. Meanwhile, Heo has been a dangerous catalyst as well, with his seven strikes and NESCAC-best eight assists placing him second in the league with 22 points. Mikey Hoeksema ’15 has made the most of his time off the bench, tying Heo with eight helpers on the year, while Mooney and Sucre have each tallied five goals.
No. 19 Swarthmore College Garnet (16-2-2, 8-0-1 Centennial)
Swarthmore’s NCAA tournament history is as old as the event itself, with the Garnet finishing as runners-up in 1974’s inaugural national championship. Securing an at-large bid, the 2012 squad is making the program’s seventh all-time tournament appearance and fourth in the past five years under head coach Eric Wagner, with last weekend’s wins giving Swarthmore an 11-4-2 all-time record in the Championship.
Before missing the field a year ago, the Garnet reached three consecutive tournaments from 2008-10. After the home loss to Amherst in the 2008 sectional semifinal, Swarthmore reached the Sweet 16 again in 2009, falling on penalty kicks to Transylvania before bowing out to Medaille in the second round of the 2010 tournament, again on PKs.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Swarthmore has rebounded from missing the tournament in 2011 with an impressive 2012 campaign. The Garnet’s lone regular-season loss came to fellow Sweet 16 qualifier Stevens on Sep. 19, while its two draws also came against NCAA tournament teams, an Oct. 10 tie with Sweet 16-bound Scranton which followed a Sep. 22 stalemate with Amherst’s second-round victim, Dickinson. Earning the top seed in its conference tournament, Swarthmore cruised past Johns Hopkins before falling victim to a 1-0 upset from Haverford in the Centennial championship.
Missing out on a conference title hardly fazed the Garnet, with Swarthmore posting a pair of dominant 3-0 wins while hosting last weekend’s opening rounds. Facing Albertus Magnus in Saturday night’s first round match, the Garnet scored three times in 20 minutes during the second half, with a Magnus own goal followed by Koby Levin ’15 and Michael Stewart ’15 strikes powering Swarthmore to the win. The following night’s performance was perhaps even more impressive, as the Garnet raced past RPI with first-half goals from Noah Sterngold ’14, Stewart, and Jack Momeyer ’14 sealing a third Sweet 16 appearance in five years for the hosts.
SCOUTING THE GARNET
Like all four teams competing this weekend, a stout defense has set the tone for Swarthmore, with the team’s 0.54 goals-against average tops in the Centennial and tied for 12th nationally. Leading the backline is senior co-captain John Pontillo, one of four all-conference first team selections on the Garnet roster. Also scoring three goals on the year, Pontillo is joined in the back by All-Centennial honorable mention pick Cameron French ’14, a dangerous threat on set pieces who contributed two goals and two assists along with his defensive efforts. Behind the backs, Peter Maxted ’14 has starred in the net, earning all-conference first team honors while ranking 11th nationally in both GAA (0.46) and save percentage (.879).
Ranking second in the league behind Dickinson with a 2.0 goals-per-game average, the Swarthmore offense is headlined by All-Centennial first team pick Stewart, whose 14 markers on the year place second in the conference. Catalyzing the attack from midfield, junior co-captain Momeyer also earned first team honors, having tallied six goals and a league-best seven assists on the year. Fellow mid Sterngold has also been a frequent distributor, with his goal and five helpers earning the junior an all-conference second team nod. Meanwhile, forward Joe Keedy ’14 and defender Jake Weiner ’14 have also dished out five assists, with Keedy also adding two goals. Wyatt McCall ’16 has been an impact rookie up front with three tallies and a pair of helpers.
No. 17 Brandeis University Judges (18-2-1, 4-2-1 UAA)
Another old hat on the NCAA Tournament scene, Brandeis is making its 10th all-time appearance in the event, all of which have come during the 40-year tenure of head coach Mike Coven. The Judges were championship regulars in its early days, winning the 1976 national title then appearing in the tournament for eight straight years from 1978-85, including a runner-up performance in 1984. The 2012 squad marks Coven’s first to reach the championship since that run, however, after a drought of 26 years. With a pair of victories last weekend, Brandeis is now 14-8-0 all-time in tournament play.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Judges reached the 2012 national tournament with an at-large bid after finishing in a four-way tie atop the University Athletic Association (UAA) with Carnegie Mellon, Emory, and Washington (MO). With no postseason tournament, Brandeis’ 4-2-1 UAA mark gave the team a share of its first-ever conference title. Winners of nine straight to open the season, the Judges rose to 10th in the national rankings before drawing with NCAA tournament-bound Rochester on Sep. 29. Brandeis’ only losses would come to Chicago on Oct. 12 and second-round qualifier Carnegie Mellon on Oct. 28 before the Judges topped NYU, 1-0, on Nov. 3 to clinch their historic finish in Division III’s most geographically expansive conference.
Hosting the opening rounds of the national tournament last weekend, Brandeis rode the back of UAA Most Valuable Player Sam Ocel ’13 to victories over Baruch College and Vassar. Facing CUNYAC Champion Baruch in first-round play Saturday, Ocel struck twice in the opening 13 minutes and the defense held on for a 2-0 win. It would take far greater drama for the Judges to get past Vassar on Sunday, however, with the match remaining scoreless until Ocel headed in an assist from Lee Russo ’13 with just 29.4 seconds left in regulation.
SCOUTING THE JUDGES
The 2012 season has already been one for the Brandeis record books, as Ocel’s MVP award made him the first Judge to earn the honor since 1994 and Coven and his assistants earned conference Coaching Staff of the Year recognition for the second time in team history. With 13 goals and eight assists, Ocel’s 38 points lead the UAA, while Russo has been nearly as dangerous, posting 12 tallies and nine helpers and earning second-team all-conference honors. As a unit, the Brandeis attack has averaged 2.43 goals per contest, with midfielder Kyle Feather ’14 joining Russo on the All-UAA second team thanks to six markers and seven assists. Tyler Savonen ’15 has also been dangerous, posting six goals and five helpers.
The Brandeis defense, meanwhile, has held opponents to an average of just 0.70 goals per contest, posting 10 shutouts and helping the team to a league-best 51-15 scoring margin. Senior back Joe Eisenbies has anchored the unit en route to first-team All-UAA honors, while Ben Applefield ’14 has also been a rock on the backline, earning all-conference honorable mention. In goal, Blake Minchoff ’13 was another honorable mention pick after posting a 0.73 GAA and a .815 save percentage.
No. 9 Williams College Ephs (15-1-3, 8-0-2 NESCAC)
The Ephs are making their 17th all-time appearance in the NCAA tournament, all of which have come since 1993. After qualifying every year from 1998-2007, Williams missed the championship twice in four years before their strong 2012 campaign. With two wins last weekend, the Ephs improved to 31-13-8 all-time in tournament play. Head coach Mike Russo’s program has reached the Final Four on four occasions, including a national title in 1995 and a runner-up performance in 1993.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
A familiar foe for Amherst, Williams barreled through an undefeated regular season with its only blemishes coming in scoreless draws with Wesleyan on Sep. 22 and the Jeffs on Oct. 6. By virtue of a coin flip, the Ephs won top seed for the NESCAC playoffs over Amherst and advanced to face the Jeffs in the conference finals, but not without drama. After a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Connecticut College, Williams needed penalty kicks to escape an upset-minded Tufts squad in the semifinals, setting up Nov. 4’s dramatic rivalry match in Williamstown. Giving up a pair of early goals, however, the Ephs could not hang with Amherst, suffering their first loss of the season, 2-0.
Williams righted the ship last weekend, hosting first and second round games and notching a pair of 2-1 victories. In opening round play against Thomas College, the Ephs dominated play, posting a 26-9 shot advantage and advancing on a goal by Mohammed Rashid ’16 in the 29th minute and the game-winner from Patrick Ebobisse ’13 in the 60th. Things would be much tighter in Williams’ second-round clash with No. 13 St. Lawrence, as the Saints struck in the opening minute and seemed poised for a 1-0 win until Rashid brought his team even with just 10 minutes remaining in regulation. Momentum stayed with the Ephs, with an overtime winner from Michael Madding ’15 sending St. Lawrence packing despite a 17-8 shot advantage.
SCOUTING THE EPHS
A strong defense has led the way for Williams, with the Ephs’ 0.59 goals-against average ranking among the top 20 nationally. After missing time early, all-conference second team goalie Than Finan ’13 has been strong in net, posting a 0.55 GAA and a .875 save percentage, both figures among the top 15 in Division III. He has been the beneficiary of a stout backline led by senior co-captain and All-NESCAC first team center back Matt Ratajczak. Joining him on the first team was fellow captain Peter Christman ’13, whose solid play at midfield has helped catalyze the offense and snuff opponents’ attacks before they materialize.
Meanwhile, Rashid has starred in his rookie year on the attack, leading an offense that averages 1.7 goals per contest. The Ghana native earned NESCAC Rookie of the Year and second team honors while ranking fourth in the league with 18 points on six goals and six assists. Ebobisse, meanwhile, has sparked the offense from midfield, dishing out five helpers to go with three goals, while User Kushaina ’14 has also been a weapon, recording five markers and an assist.