Men’s Soccer Seeking 10th Consecutive Appearance in the NCAA Tourney
Issue   |   Thu, 09/03/2015 - 22:46
Rob Mattson
Milton Rico ’16 contributed six points for the Jeffs in his junior year.

This year the men’s soccer team looks to continue its impressive streak of five straight Sweet 16 appearances and nine consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.

After defeating Fitchburg State and St. Lawrence in the first two rounds of the 2014 NCAA tournament, the Jeffs fell to a talented Brandeis team in the Sweet 16 on penalty kicks, following a 0-0 draw through two overtime periods, and finished the 2014 season with a 14-1-6 overall record and a 7-1-2 record in the NESCAC. Amherst’s Sweet 16 loss to Brandeis marked the second time in the last three years and the third time over the past five seasons that the men’s soccer team saw its season come to an end in the NCAA tournament on penalty kicks.

Last year’s seniors concluded their Amherst careers with a 65-4-13 overall record, three NESCAC championships, four trips to the NCAA third round and two trips to the NCAA Elite Eight.

But even after losing those talented players, the Jeffs are ranked 10th in the nation entering the 2015 season and will return a considerable amount of talent and experience this year to a team that certainly appears capable of making another deep run into late November. Returning players for Amherst’s 2015 squad accounted for 86 percent of Amherst’s total goals last season, 79 percent of Amherst’s overall assists and 84 percent of Amherst’s season point total.

The Jeffs return five of the team’s top goal scorers from last season. Senior forward Nico Pascual-Leone led the Jeffs with seven goals and eight assists in his junior campaign, earning First Team All-NESCAC honors and NSCAA All-New England Region Second Team recognition in the process. Striker Greg Singer ’16 was second on the team in points in 2014, with five goals and four assists.

A trio of juniors also provided major offensive contributions during their sophomore seasons. Forward Chris Martin scored five goals in 2014, good for 13 goals in his two-year career. Defenseman Cameron Bean ’17 notched four goals, and junior midfielder Andrew Orozco added three goals.

Senior midfielder Milton Rico and junior, midfielders Bryce Ciambella and Forest Sisk among others, should also help provide stability and offensive firepower to the midfield and the offensive attack.

Senior goalkeeper Thomas Bull will look to continue his dominance in the net. Bull is a two-time All-NESCAC selection and a 2013 NSCAA Second Team All-American goalkeeper. He has logged 33 shutouts in 62 career starts, including nine shutouts in 2014. He has also maintained a .46 goals against average over the course of his career and a .825 career save percentage.

Juniors Justin Aoyama, Rohan Sood and Bean will help anchor the defense, hoping to fill the void left by graduated defender Gabriel Wirz ’15.

In addition, the Jeffs have a capable group of seniors who can provide strong leadership during the 2015 season. The seniors are 49-2-11 over their careers thus far, with two trips to the NCAA Elite Eight and two NESCAC championships in their three-year collegiate careers.

“This is a senior class that has had quite a bit of success,” coach Justin Serpone said. “They’ve only lost twice in the 62 games they have played. I think all seven of them have the chance to help us win games this season, and I look forward to seeing who makes the most of their opportunities.”

The Jeffs will be relying upon the growth and development of its returning core in 2015, but the program also has much to be excited about in its incoming first-year class.

“We’re very much looking forward to welcoming the class of 2019 into the Amherst soccer family,” Serpone said. “They are special young men.”

Up first this season, the Jeffs will face New England College on the road at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8, following the first day of classes.

“New England College is a very good team who won 11 games last season and took us to overtime,” Serpone said. “They are a terrific first test.”

At this point in the year, Serpone has his team focused solely on its first opponent of the season, despite some exciting games ahead over the course of the 2015 season.

“We’re taking this season just like any other,” Serpone said. “Every team is 0-0 right now, and our only goal is to be 1-0 when we go to bed on Sept. 8.”

In Amherst’s home opener on Saturday, Sept. 12, the Jeffs will welcome Bowdoin and have the chance to avenge their overtime loss to the Polar Bears in the 2014 NESCAC championship.

The Jeffs will take on Williams on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2:30 p.m. The Ephs are a longtime NESCAC rival who defeated the Jeffs in the Elite Eight in two of the last three seasons.

The following weekend, on Saturday, Oct. 3, Amherst will host defending national champions Tufts, the top-ranked team in the nation heading into 2015. Kick-off for that contest is set for 2:30 p.m.

While the Jeffs finished 7-1-2 in the NESCAC in 2014, the conference has seen increased parity in recent seasons, a trend that appears likely to grow further in the future, as a large contingent of the NESCAC continues to field consistently competitive teams.

“The NESCAC has 11 good men’s soccer teams in it,” Serpone said. “Every game is a battle that could go either way, and most will be decided by one goal. We’re lucky to compete in such a fantastic conference.”