For the seniors on the Williams soccer team, the 1998 postseason has been a refreshing stroll down memory lane. Not since their freshmen year have the Ephs played with such confidence and skill, and by defeating St. Lawrence on Saturday after four overtimes and a nail-biting shootout, they have earned a place in the NCAA final four.
The NCAA quarterfinal match took place in chilly Canton, New York, home to the St. Lawrence Saints and adjacent to the Canadian border. The undefeated Saints were representing the Northeast region, and with a gutsy performance showed that the talent in Division III soccer extends beyond the highly respected New England region represented by Williams.
The Ephs struck first blood on a goal by Angelo Patentas ’99 just eighteen minutes into the game. Just as it had been at Plymouth State the week before, the Saints mounted a vicious comeback, and within 3:30 of Patentas’ goal had tied the game on a goal by midfielder Matt Bogosian. The Saints did not relent, and took the lead in the 30th minute when midfielder Dan Annan darted through the Eph defense and slotted a left-footed shot to sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Spicer’s far post.
The half ended 2-1, as players from both teams scuttled off the field towards the heaters set up behind the benches. The Ephs were noticeably discouraged during halftime; but as the snow began to fall heavily just before the second half, the players huddled up in a circle and vowed to overcome the weather and the opponent to reach the final four.
“After we all got together before the second half, I knew [the game] was ours,” said Eph captain Dan Pozen ’99. “We told each other that there was no way we were going to lose this game.” The Ephs were all over the Saints at the beginning of the half, and equalized just ten minutes in with another goal by Patentas, coming off a nifty wing play and an assist from Pozen. The momentum shifted back and forth for the remainder of the half, but neither team was able to capitalize as regulation time ended with the score tied 2-2.
Following 60 minutes of overtime, 30 of which were sudden-death, the match was still tied. The Ephs had several opportunities to score in overtime, but fatigue and the cold seemed to be taking its toll on the Eph forwards who were not able to finish off the chances.
The battle for a spot in the final four, after 150 minutes of intense, even play, came down to a penalty-kick shootout. Penalty kicks represent soccer at its most dramatic, and the St. Lawrence crowd was part of the theatrics, producing roaring chants of “S.L.U, S.L.U,” during the shootout.
The shootout was tied at three after the first five kickers from each team had shot, and only after four rounds of sudden death penalty kicks did Williams emerge victorious, the winning goal coming from defender Willie Ouimette ’01. The undisputed hero of the shootout, however, was goalkeeper and penalty-kick specialist Neal Appleman ’00, who saved three Saints penalty-kicks after coming off the bench to replace Spicer. “I knew Neal was our guy, after seeing how well he had performed saving penalty kicks in practice,” said head coach Mike Russo.
The Ephs were ecstatic following the game, and the chants of “final four” were heard well into the night at the post-game celebration party. The last time Williams qualified for the final four was in 1995, the year the Ephs won the national championship, defeating Methodist College 2-1 in the final on Cole Field. “’95 seems like so long ago,” said captain Steve Danbusky ’99, who mentioned how far the Ephs have come since the disappointment of last year’s sub-par season. “But it is so great to be back [in the final four]. For the first time since [my] freshmen year, we’re playing with that feeling that we can’t lose.”
The Ephs will take their renewed confidence to Delaware, Ohio where Ohio Wesleyan will host this years final four. The Ephs will take on Ohio Wesleyan in the first round for the chance to play in the finals against the winner of Greensboro College vs. Rowan University on Sunday.