Men’s soccer moves into three-way tie for first place

Two weeks removed from a shocking loss to the Bowdoin Polar Bears that pushed men’s soccer (6-2; 4-1 in the NESCAC) from atop the NESCAC standings for the first time in four years, the King has returned.

With wins this past weekend over conference foes Bates and Colby, the Ephs moved into a three-way tie for first place with Bowdoin and Wesleyan.

The Ephs’ three-game road trip did not come off without a hitch, however, as earlier in the week the Ephmen tasted defeat for the second time this season following a 2-1 loss to Keene State.

A team is only as good as its last game, though, and the Ephs were as good as gold against Colby; indeed, the Ephs ran circles around the White Mules (4-4; 1-4)) en route to a 5-0 win on Sunday.

Josh Bolton ’06 registered his strongest effort yet with a one-goal, two-assist tour de force performance, while Keith Jackson ’06 sent home the first goal of his collegiate career.

“We didn’t play well in the first half in the game yesterday against Bates,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “But we picked it up and played some solid soccer in the second half of that game and that carried over right on into today – our guys turned in a tremendous performance in the first half.”

Indeed, the Ephs took it to the White Mules from the opening whistle and just poured it on thereafter. Bolton made it a 1-0 lead for the Ephmen in only the fifth minute of play – assisting on the goal were Alex Blake ’03 and Ryan Olsen ’04.

Khari Stephenson ’04 teamed up with Bolton six minutes later to make it a 2-0 Eph advantage before Blake took matters into his own hands. Blake tallied goals 11 and 12 on the season, striking first in the 25th minute and then again in the 43rd, on which Bolton and Dylan Smith ’03 notched the assists, respectively.

With a comfortable 4-0 lead at the half, Russo rotated various players in and out of the game in the second half, but that did not stop the Ephs from pushing another goal up on the board. Indeed, in the 63rd minute Sky Riggs ’05 provided the assist on Jackson’s first career goal, which made it a 5-0 contest and closed the scoring on the day.

Russo reserved particular praise for three players on the team who contributed mightily to the Eph victory. “Romel [Wallen ’04], Ryan and Josh really turned in tremendous efforts today, those three really helped us set the tone of the game,” he said.

Russo also spoke admirably of Smith’s performance. Smith was suffering from a leg contusion that he sustained in the win over Bates, but nonetheless managed to lead the team defensively.

Though the Ephs dominated the pace of play in the win on Sunday, Saturday’s match against Bates was far less convincing; indeed, it was only with a goal from Stephenson in the 49th minute of play that men’s soccer managed to capture a victory over their conference foes from Bates (3-4-1) in Lewiston.

Assisting on the goal was Blake, whose beautiful cross from the right side to Stephenson in the middle of the 18-yard box set up the lone goal of the day.

To be sure, the Eph situation never appeared to be particularly dire, but the game remained tied into the second half. For though the Ephs tallied 21 shots on goal to the Bobcats’ meager seven, the boys in purple were stifled by the defensive Bates configuration and the play of the Bates goalkeeper, James Kenly, who tallied eight saves on the day. Kenly’s Eph counterpart, Nick Armington ’06, registered one save en route to his second shutout on the season.

It was not all joy in Mudville for the Ephs this week, however, as the team suffered its second loss of the season on Tuesday when they fell to the Owls of Keene State by a final score of 2-1. Olsen scored the lone Eph goal on the day, a 76th minute score on which Blake tallied the assist.

Though they were outplayed in the first half, the Ephs managed to keep the score even at nil-nil until the 49th minute. Keene made it a two-goal Williams deficit in the 60th minute before Olsen got his team on the scoreboard.

The Ephs played hard down the stretch and dominated the final 20 minutes of play but could not come up with a second goal. Armington played the entire game in net for the Ephs – the goalkeeper position seems to be his to lose at this point in the season. Earlier in the year he platooned with Robbie Kirsher ’03 in net.

Despite the loss, what counts is that the Ephs have bounced back from the Keene defeat in the first game of their three-game road trip nicely, with wins in their last two games over Bates and Colby – but now all sights are dead set on Saturday’s showdown with Middlebury.

Fans should note that the starting time for the game has been changed to 3:30 p.m. The game will still be played down on Cole Field.

Middlebury (4-2-2; 3-1-1), the other traditional NESCAC heavyweight, is currently in second place, a meager half-game behind the Williams-Wesleyan-Bowdoin axis.

In the literal sense, the King has already returned – first place is first place, of course; but if the Ephs can come away with a victory over the Panthers on their home turf on Saturday, the King will prove to have returned in a more figurative and meaningful sense.