Men's Soccer Fall to Conn. College, But Secures Top Seed
Issue   |   Wed, 11/02/2011 - 01:45
Mark Idleman '15
Milton Rico ’15 tallied a goal and an assist in Amherst’s 4-0 win over Colby.

The men’s soccer team had a crazy up-and-down week ­— and not only because of the weather.

After suffering their first loss of the season — a miserable 3-2 defeat to unheralded Conn. College — the Jeffs rebounded with a convincing 4-0 win over Colby in the NESCAC quarterfinals.

On Wednesday, the Jeffs fell 3-2 to Conn. College in a game where a win would have wrapped up an undefeated regular season. Instead, the Jeffs were left to take solace in the fact that rival Wesleyan had also lost, giving Amherst the regular season NESCAC title by virtue of a better record against the top four teams (2-0-1 versus 1-1-1).

“We really had our sights on winning the game and achieving an undefeated regular season, but we always knew that Conn. College was not a walk-over team,” co-captain Thebe Tsatsimpe ’12 said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t convert our chances and opened ourselves up to mistakes.”

“There is a fine margin between winning and losing soccer games. We threaded too much on it and consequently lost.”

Julien Aoyama ’14 expressed similar sentiments. “Finding out we were the number one seed was the last thing on our mind. It really didn’t matter to us at that point. It was extremely bittersweet. We were still shell-shocked from the loss.”

The Camels, who proved to be dangerous underdogs, played as if they had nothing to lose. Their aggression led to four cautionary yellow cards, but also resulted in their first goal of the game just 12 minutes in.

On offense, the Jeffs threatened with numerous attacking forays, but encountered bad luck by hitting the post on three separate occasions.

Amherst was finally able to get on the board in the 39th minute, when Alejandro Sucre ’13 crossed a low ball into the box, which Milton Rico ’15 then dummied, allowing Mike Hoeksema ’15 to unleash a low ripper to send the Jeffs into halftime level at 1-1.

The Jeffs gave back the lead shortly after the intermission, when the defense badly misplayed a cross. A lack of communication led an Amherst defender to indecisively lunge for the ball, which was deflected into his own net for a goal.

Aoyama appeared to tie the game just five minutes later, but was called offside with what some players claimed was an erroneous whistle.

With just 10 minutes left to play, the Jeffs equalized, as Casey McNamara ’13 fired a one-timer into the back of the net off another Sucre assist.

In the waning moments of regulation, however, Conn. stunned the Jeffs with another goal against the run of play. The Camels’ Kevin O’Brien was outnumbered by three defenders, but used a series of scissor kicks to find just enough space to barely loft the ball past goalie Lennard Kovacs ’12 with just three minutes on the clock.

The Jeffs nearly scored a last-gasp goal one minute later, when they were given a chance to tie the game with a penalty kick for a Camel handball. Camel goalkeeper Casey Marini saved junior Spencer Noon’s attempt, however, capping the unexpected result. Marini frustrated the Jeffs all day, recording 10 saves on 22 shot attempts.

The loss may have been a blessing in disguise, according to Tsatsimpe. “With hindsight, it was probably good to experience the loss prior to commencing playoff games,” he said. “Now we know we are beatable and cannot allow small mistakes to creep into our game, otherwise we will pay dearly for them.”

The Jeffs rallied for their next game, a NESCAC Quarterfinal contest against Colby. Coming out focused despite nearly a foot of snow on the ground, Amherst quickly raced out to 2-0 lead over the Mules.

Eleven minutes into the game, Rico found his way to a loose ball just outside the six-yard box and put home a rebound after a pair of Colby saves. Noon picked up the assist, as his powerful shot forced the rebound.

Less than 10 minutes later, Noon would get a goal of his own. Chris Lerner ’13 found him at the far post for an easy header tap-in. Lerner had to dribble closer to the goal than normal before unleashing one of his trademark crosses, as the snowfall made it extremely difficult to lift the ball any significant distance.

Twenty minutes after halftime, Rico’s corner kick was finished by Sucre, one of the Jeffs’ favorite targets off set pieces. The final goal, which came in the 73rd minute, was similar to the second, as Lerner again found Noon, whose shot was nearly saved but trickled over the line because of the slick conditions.

The snow made it difficult for either team to play high-quality soccer, as meaningful offensive combinations were difficult to come by, as were long clearances or crosses. But for a team desperate for a win following the Conn. disappointment, the result was a masterpiece.

“We needed to rebound and we did,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “We played with desperation and it was fun to watch. The snowy conditions forced us to throw the scouting report out the window and claw and scrap our way though 90 minutes. For the first time this season I was impressed with our toughness and resolve.”

The game of tenacity, aggression and athleticism allowed Rico to star in his postseason debut. His coach took notice. “Rico was the man on Saturday. He worked hard, won tackles and scored his first collegiate goal. I was happy for him.”

The positive result of the tumultuous weekend is the privilege of hosting the NESCAC semifinals and finals this coming weekend. The Jeffs will take on Middlebury, whom they dismantled 3-0 in the regular season two months ago. Trinity faces Williams in the other semifinal game.

Serpone urged his team to exercise caution in what could be a trap game against the dangerous seventh seed, which upset No. 2 Wesleyan 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

“The early-season result against Middlebury means absolutely nothing. It might as well have happened in 1963. They have played in every NESCAC final since 2005 so there really isn’t a better postseason team,” Serpone said. “We have to play better than we’ve played all season if we are going to be able to compete with them on Saturday.”