Fueled by dynamic offensive play, the men’s soccer team defeated Husson Uni. and Eastern Connecticut State Univ. over the weekend to advance to the NCAA Round of 16.
The Jeffs made quick work of Husson, winning 4-0 and finishing with a decisive 27-5 shot advantage. The Braves could only muster two shots on goal, both of which Lennard Kovacs ’12 saved for the shutout.
Despite dominating possession and creating numerous chances, the Jeffs failed to find the back of the net until the 28th minute. “It took us very long and a lot of effort to break their defense.” said Kovacs. “Given the fact that 19 players on their team were freshmen makes their performance on Saturday very impressive.”
NESCAC Player of the Year Spencer Noon ’13 recorded two goals to continue his stellar season, while juniors Alejandro Sucre and Brian Morgan also found the back of the net.
The following day, the Jeffs again came out attacking in front of their home crowd, this time facing Eastern Connecticut State. It only took six minutes for the Jeffs to find the back of the net, as Jae Heo ’14 found Federico Sucre ’13, who calmly beat the keeper on a breakaway for the lead. This lead would not last long, however, as the Warriors quickly scored off a throw-in five minutes later.
Defender Sam Kaplan ’12 was disappointed in the momentary lapse. “We were fortunate to get off to a fast start against an excellent ECSU team, but then we took our foot off the gas and they really battled back into the game and turned it on its head by equalizing.”
But the resilient Jeffs fought back, scoring two goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half. The Sucre twins flicked long throw-ins with their heads, allowing Heo and Ben Norton ’14 to score one goal apiece, giving the Jeffs a 3-1 lead. The Warriors came out in dominant attacking form to open the second half, but thanks to a pair of diving saves, Kovacs was able to keep ECSU at bay.
“Lennard came up with some huge saves in the second half,” said head coach Justin Serpone. “In order to be successful in the NCAA tournament your goalkeeper has to make some plays and Lennard did that twice in a 10-minute span.”
Heo found the net again, this time off a Chris Lerner ’13 cross to give the Jeffs a 4-1 lead in the 61st minute. ECSU responded quickly again, scoring off a rebound four minutes later. Despite giving up two loose goals, the defense held strong to maintain a hard-fought 4-2 lead. Amherst outshot ECSU 15-11, though ESCU posted more corners, 6-4. Kaplan was “disappointed to concede the goals that we did,” and said that they cannot afford to do that in upcoming games.
“We also finished our chances pretty well, which at the end was key to the game, as ECSU was not able to convert as many of their chances,” said Kovacs. “If they had been a little more efficient with their chances, and we a little less efficient, the result could have been completely different.”
The good spirits and luck continued into Monday, when the Jeffs found out that Messiah, the top seed and NCAA champion in five of the last six years, was upset by Neumann University. The loss meant that Amherst will have the advantage of hosting the Regionals over the weekend. They open against Stevens Institute of Technology, a team that the Jeffs remember very well. “We played Stevens in the 2008 Final Four and lost 4-1 so we have some history with them,” Serpone recalled.
Kaplan is grateful for the support already received from fans. “We are extremely excited to play in front of our home crowd one more weekend. School and fan support has been at a level this year that far exceeds anything I’ve experienced in my four years here and it is absolutely integral to our success. We hope that as many students, administrators and faculty members as possible are willing to sacrifice a few days of their Thanksgiving Break to watch us play, as our team really feeds off of their support.”
If the ball continues to bounce their way, a deep NCAA run could be in store.