Rookie Sensation Greg Singer Sends Jeffs to Sweet 16
Issue   |   Tue, 11/13/2012 - 22:34
Rob Mattson, Pubic Affairs Office
After topping Dickinson, 4-0, men's soccer has remained unbeaten and will face Swarthmore on Saturday.

Fresh off an emotional NESCAC title over Williams last weekend, the men’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 with a 4-0 victory over Dickinson (Pa.) on Sunday.

Clinging to a 1-0 lead after 60 tense minutes, the Jeffs (16-0-2) exploded for three goals in an eight-minute span in the second half to bury Dickinson (13-4-2).

In the process, the Jeffs secured their third consecutive NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance, and fifth in six years under head coach Justin Serpone. Amherst, seeded No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament, will host No. 19 Swarthmore (16-2-2) in the Round of 16 this Saturday.

In a match that was tighter than the final score indicated, the Jeffs found themselves in a dogfight with Dickinson through the first 60 minutes. However, a rapid succession of brilliant, outrageous goals in the second half propelled the Jeffs to a 4-0 margin of victory.

“I thought overall we brought good energy to the game, but that at times we weren’t able to connect like we have in the past few games,” co-captain Chris Lerner ’13 said. “And that’s what happens in tournament games. It’s not always going to be pretty soccer because both teams are fighting for their season. Fortunately we were able to have some great finishes from our guys up top.”

Backed by a supportive homecoming crowd on a warm, sunny afternoon, the Jeffs immediately exerted offensive pressure in the Dickinson half, creating a slew of scoring chances early in the contest.

In the fifth minute, Spencer Noon ’13 found space on the left flank before sending a cross to Jae Heo ’14, but the junior’s header flew just over the crossbar.

One minute later, Noon unleashed an acrobatic bicycle kick from the right side of the box, but Dickinson goalkeeper Cody Hickok made a diving save to keep the game scoreless.

The Red Devils had their first good look in the 10th minute, when a long ball into the box was headed out to Dickinson’s Shepherd Waldenberger, whose 20-yard shot attempt forced Amherst goalkeeper Thomas Bull ’16 to move to his right for the save.

After narrowly missing on several set pieces, the Jeffs finally broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute. Collecting the ball by the left sideline after a Dickinson clearance, Julien Aoyama ’14 lofted a high cross back into the box. Hickok tried to punch the ball away, but the cross sailed over his outstretched arms to Max Fikke ’14, who nodded his header into the empty net. Fikke, normally a substitute off the bench, has now scored in three of the past four games.

Dickinson nearly responded on the ensuing possession, as Javier Mena curled a 30-yard free kick toward the upper right corner of the net. In an impressive display of athleticism, Bull leapt high to his left to snare the attempt.

In the 43rd minute, Fikke almost doubled his goal total in spectacular fashion, but his swinging volley rocketed straight into the hands of the goalkeeper. The Red Devils then had a last-gasp opportunity seconds before the halftime whistle, when Bull bobbled a long free-kick in a crowded 18-yard box, but the Jeffs cleared the ball out of danger.

Pushing forward for the equalizer, Dickinson started to control possession early in the second half, and the Jeffs began to find themselves chasing after the ball in the defensive half of the field.

The Red Devils missed a fantastic opportunity to tie the game at 1-1 in the 57th minute. Dickinson’s Jamie Martin slid a pass into the box from the right side, springing Nicolas Tierno onto a partial breakaway. With Bull closing fast, Tierno poked his shot just wide of the right post, allowing the home crowd to exhale a sigh of relief.

Regrouping after the close call, the Jeffs stormed back with a goal in the 64th minute to regain the momentum.

After James Mooney ’13E sent a searching through-ball to the right side of the box, substitute Greg Singer ’16 shook off a defender and beat Hickok in a footrace to the ball before centering a pass to Noon, who outmaneuvered his defender to bury the opportunity.

“The second goal was huge because it came right after they missed a great chance that would have made it 1-1,” Serpone said.
Emboldened after his gritty assist, Singer extended the Amherst lead to 3-0 with a highlight-reel goal in the 67th minute.

Gathering the ball near the top left corner of the 18-yard box, Singer took a few touches to his right before deftly bending a shot into the top right-corner of the net, just above the arms of the leaping goalkeeper.

Just five minutes later, Noon capped the scoring with another ridiculous, eye-popping goal. Surging with the ball into the left side of the box, Noon rifled a sharp-angle toe shot against the bottom of the crossbar to give the Jeffs a 4-0 cushion.

Amherst’s tenacious backline delivered another strong performance, limiting Dickinson to just two shots on net. Securing their 16th shutout of the season, the Jeffs have conceded just two goals in 18 games this season.

Overall, Amherst outshot Dickinson by an 18-7 margin, including an 8-2 edge in shots on net.

“There are still things that we need to work on, and there were pieces of the game that I didn’t think we were great on, but we made plays in both halves and it made for a memorable day,” Serpone said.

Seeking their first Final Four appearance since 2008, the Jeffs will face a tough test against Swarthmore on Saturday.

Swarthmore looked impressive in last weekend’s early-round action, earning a pair of 3-0 wins over Albertus Magnus and Rensselaer.

“Swarthmore is going to be a real tough test,” Lerner said. “We’re going to need all 30 guys to work and grind and play for each other for 90 minutes.”

“Swarthmore is a perennial soccer power. They are well coached and have some very good players,” Serpone said. “I am sure it will be a huge test for us and I’m hopeful that we will be up for it.”

If the Jeffs manage to defeat Swarthmore, they would face the winner of Brandeis (18-2-1) and Williams (15-1-3) in the NCAA quarterfinals on Sunday.

Kickoff time for the Amherst/Swarthmore contest is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Hitchcock Field.

“It’s an honor to be playing in the Sweet 16 and as a program we are grateful for the opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for our team on Saturday,” Serpone said.