Men's Soccer Advances to Sweet Sixteen for Third Straight Year
Issue   |   Tue, 11/18/2014 - 23:34
Photo courtesy of Megan Robertson '15
Senior defender Bubba Van Wie has stepped up huge as a transitional forward in post-season play.

This past weekend, the Amherst men’s soccer advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament after victories on consecutive days in Amherst’s ninth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The weekend before the NCAA Tournament, the Jeffs advanced to their fourth straight NESCAC Championship game. However, this year the Jeffs came up just a bit short in their title defense as they sought to earn a fourth consecutive NESCAC Championship. The Jeffs, at 14-1-5, will now look to do more damage in the NCAA third round and beyond.

After a victory over Colby (the No. 7 seed) in the NESCAC Quarterfinals, the second-seeded Jeffs topped the eighth-seeded Connecticut College Camels on Saturday, Nov. 8 by a score of 3-2 to advance to the NESCAC Championship.

“Connecticut College is a good team and that was a good win,” Coach Justin Serpone said. “We would have liked to not have given up a goal in the first 10 seconds, but I was happy with how the guys battled back.”

The Jeffs looked to carry the momentum from their homecoming weekend win into their NESCAC Championship matchup the following afternoon on Hitchcock Field against the sixth-seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears.

In the first half, both the Jeffs and Polar Bears each had six shots apiece, but neither team was able to put one across.
In the 77th minute, a legitimate scoring chance from Nico Pascual-Leone ’16hit the post, while the rebound (off Pascual-Leone’s shot attempt) from sophomore midfielder Bryce Ciambella finished just wide.

As the game was scoreless through regulation, the game headed to overtime. With little doing in the first overtime, the Jeffs had several opportunities to put the game away in the second , but Amherst was unable to convert any of its scoring chances.

For the second day in a row, the Polar Bears forced penalty kicks, as Bowdoin won 3-2 following a 0-0 tie after two periods of overtime against Middlebury in the NESCAC Semifinals.

Once again, the Polar Bears performed exceptionally well in penalty kicks. After they converted the first shot, Van Slicen turned away Amherst’s first shot attempt.

When Bowdoin took a 2-1 lead following the first two penalty kicks, Thomas Bull ’16 was there to make the clutch save for Amherst on Bowdoin’s third penalty kick. With Bowdoin holding a 5-4 edge after six penalty shots, Van Slicen made the final save for the Polar Bears to knock off Amherst in the NESCAC Championship.

Regarding the NESCAC Championship game, Coach Serpone said that “we had our opportunities, but didn’t finish. Credit to Bowdoin on the victory, they executed their game plan well, and their penalty kicks were fantastic.”

On Saturday, Nov. 15 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jeffs faced the Fitchburg State Falcons on Sandy MacAllaster Field in Canton, New York. Against the Falcons, the Jeffs played well defensively and used two first half goals from first-year forward Aziz Khan to earn the victory.

Fifteen minutes into the game, Khan received a pass from forward Kieran Bellew ’18, and put it left of the goalie to put the Jeffs ahead 1-0.

In the 37th minute, a short corner kick from sophomore midfielder Forest Sisk found junior midfielder Tommy Haskel, who then set up Khan for a header that landed in back of the net and doubled Amherst’s lead going into halftime.

Ultimately, the Jeffs outshot the Jeffs 32-2 in the 2-0 victory. Defensively, Bull and the Amherst defense carried the Jeffs to the team’s ninth shutout of 2014.

After the win over Fitchburg State, the Jeffs faced ninth-ranked St. Lawrence Saints (who entered with a 17-2-1 mark) on St. Lawrence’s home field. Both the Jeffs and the Saints were held scoreless over the first 45 minutes.

More than 20 minutes into the second half of play, Amherst positioned themselves well in the match with a goal from sophomore defender Cameron Bean. While Saints goalie Aaron Costello saved Bean’s first shot attempt, Bean was able to put the rebound into the net for the score, giving Amherst the 1-0 lead.

In the 79th minute, the Saints’ Manny Collins scored the equalizing goal. The game remained tied until the end of regulation and during the overtime periods, resulting in an Amherst game going to penalty kicks for the second time in its past three games.

During penalty kicks, first-year goalie Lee Owen was put in goal and made some clutch saves for Amherst. The Jeffs received a significant contribution from another first-year, as Bellew buried home Amherst’s fifth and final penalty kick of the afternoon to give the Jeffs the victory (after winning the penalty kicks 3-2). With the win, the Jeffs eliminated a talented Saints team for the second consecutive season in the NCAA Tournament.

Up next, the Jeffs will face fifth-ranked Brandeis (who enters play at 19-1-2) in the NCAA third round on Nov. 22 at 1:30 p.m. Brandeis advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after defeating Bowdoin 1-0 in the NCAA Second Round and beating Husson by a 3-0 tally in the NCAA First Round. A win for the Jeffs on Saturday against Brandeis would put Amherst in its third consecutive Elite Eight (after the Jeffs lost to Williams in both the 2012 and the 2013 NCAA Elite Eight).

“Brandeis is traditionally a very strong program and will be a tough test,” Bull said. “Our goal against any team is to break them down with high pressure and hard work. This is especially important when playing against a possession-orientated team like Brandeis in order to disrupt their rhythm. During the NCAA tournament, however, it is all about finding a way to advance to the next round no matter the opponent. I believe we have a group of guys that are battle-tested and have the ability to beat any team in the country on any given day. I’m excited about our prospects moving forward in the tournament and am excited to get to work in practice this week ahead of our Sweet Sixteen matchup.”