Men’s Soccer Surges to top of NESCAC, will battle Wesleyan for No. 1 Seed
Issue   |   Fri, 10/21/2011 - 18:28
Photo by Kate Berry '12
Forward Spencer Noon ’13 has tormented opposing defenses this season, and leads the NESCAC with eight goals in league games this season. Teammate Jae Heo ’14 ranks second in the conference with five goals.

After enduring a grueling two-week span that included four key away NESCAC games, the men’s soccer team remains undefeated. After drawing with rival Williams, the Lord Jeffs proceeded to defeat Trinity, Colby and Bowdoin in succession. The No. 4 Jeffs (11-0-1, 7-0-1 NESCAC) have climbed into a first-place tie with No. 9 Wesleyan, setting up a blockbuster matchup between the two teams on Homecoming weekend.

On Oct. 9, a defeat looked probable against Williams, as the Jeffs trailed 2-0 with just 11 minutes left to play. Playing with visible desperation, the team raised their intensity level and was finally able to break through in the 79th minute, when a Julien Aoyama ’14 cross was poorly cleared by the Eph defense. Casey McNamara ’13 pounced on the loose ball at the top of the box and had his shot saved. Jae Heo ’14 beat the defenders to the rebound and powerfully drove the ball to the far post to finally get the team on the scoreboard.

It did not take long for the Jeffs to find their second goal. Just 49 seconds later, Heo was awarded a penalty when he was pulled down inside the box. Spencer Noon ’13 had his initial attempt blocked but had the awareness to slot the rebound into the back of the net.

The Jeffs continued to press and were the more attacking team throughout the two extra periods. Heo nearly put them on top for good when he hit the post from the top of the box. The team would have probably netted the rebound, but the buzzer sounded before they could claim victory.

Goalkeeper Lennard Kovacs ’12 said he was happy with the team’s resilience. “We were very lucky to come out of this game with a tie. For the majority of the game, Williams was the better team, but we showed great spirit and fought our way back into the game.”

Head coach Justin Serpone said he was content to come away with a draw. “I thought we showed a lot of composure and consistency coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the last 12 minutes of the game. As long as we build on the momentum, it could be an important moment for us moving forward.”

Amherst did not have much time to recover from its first non-win of the season, traveling to Trinity just two days later. The game was largely a defensive struggle, but the Lord Jeffs were able to break the deadlock in the 27th minute, when midfielder Thebe Tsatsimpe ’12 served a cross to the far side of the box. Noon’s diving header slipped past the Bantam goalkeeper to give the Jeffs the lone goal of the game.

Scoring chances were limited, as the teams combined for only 11 shots, with the Jeffs holding a 7-4 advantage. “Trinity played a great game and chances were few and far between for both teams and we were fortunate to put one away and get out of there with a victory,” center back Sam Kaplan ’12 said. “We take great pride in our team defending, from the forwards through the goalkeeper, and we knew that we had to have this game.”

The Jeffs continued their winning ways on a road trip to Maine the next weekend, defeating Colby 3-0 on Saturday. The Mules could not handle Noon, who played a factor in all three Jeffs goals after a scoreless first half.

On the first goal, Noon’s shot was redirected by Max Fikke ’14 to open the scoring. Federico Sucre ’13 then found Noon with a through ball that split the Mule defense. Noon ran past a defender before beating the keeper to score. The final goal again came courtesy of a Sucre cross, as he found Noon waiting at the back post. Noon calmly finished with his feet to continue his NESCAC-leading scoring rampage.

Serpone had nothing but praise for his striker. “Spencer has been integral to our success for the past two years so it’s no surprise that he’s scoring goals and creating chances again this season. The impressive thing is that he’s added elements to his game each year and has really improved.”

The next day, the team returned to the site of last season’s gut-wrenching defeat: Bowdoin. The Jeffs’ 2010 campaign ended there when they lost on penalties in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Jeffs made sure history did not repeat itself.

Following a scoreless first half, the Jeffs played with aggression in search of the opening goal. Less than five minutes after the break, Heo’s corner found Alejandro Sucre ’13. Sucre used his height and athleticism to finish and give the Jeffs momentum. Ten minutes later, Bowdoin took advantage of its own corner to level the scoring.

With 15 minutes left in the game, the Jeffs successfully counterattacked the stretched Bowdoin defense. Kaplan found McNamara with a long ball that traveled half the length of the field. McNamara masterfully played a quick and precise cross into the box to Ben Norton ’14, who one-timed the shot into the far post for the winner.

Kaplan said the win was more than just a victory on paper, as it provided the Jeffs with an emotional uplift and will give them confidence moving forward. “Games against Bowdoin are always extremely physical games. They are one of the most physically imposing teams in the league and are so organized defensively that they are very difficult to break down going forward. In the end, this game could have gone either way, and it was a big step to get a win.”

“We’ve played four games up on Pickard Field since it opened in 2008 and we’re 0-2-2 in those games, so getting that win on Sunday was huge,” Serpone said. “It’s not easy to win NESCAC games on the road, especially against an experienced team that went to a Final Four last year.”

The outcome of this hard-fought, successful regular season will be determined Saturday against Wesleyan, when the NESCAC’s top two teams meet on Hitchcock Field. The winner of this game will be the regular season champion and secure home-field advantage throughout the NESCAC tournament.

Serpone is already looking forward to the game. “Wesleyan is huge. The winner clinches the regular season NESCAC Championship as well as a Little Three title. Ultimately it will be about execution and which team is able to exert their style on the other. I can’t think of a better place to be if you’re a soccer fan in western Massachusetts on Saturday at 3 p.m.”

Kovacs hopes Jeffs fans will come out in full force. “Wesleyan has a great team this year and it should be a very exciting match. I hope we’ll get a lot of people to the game and can create a great atmosphere. It should be NESCAC soccer at its finest.”