In what was likely their final home game of the season, the men’s soccer team (12-3; 7-2 in the NESCAC) stepped their game up a notch in a 5-1 drubbing of the Wesleyan Cardinals (9-6; 4-5). With the win, Williams advances to the semifinals of the NESCAC Tournament, where it will meet Middlebury (9-3-3; 5-2-2) at Bowdoin College on Saturday.
“I thought we played extremely well today, especially in the first half,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “We told the boys that with the tournament starting it’s a new season, that everything that’s happened prior to today has been wiped off the record, and they responded with some of the best soccer that we’ve played this year.”
The Ephs got off to a fast start, scoring a goal in minute 13 following the excellent hustle of Ryan Olsen ’04.
Olsen received the ball on the left flank, burned through two defenders and raced down to the end line. After the 15-yard dash, Olsen was faced with three more defenders to beat, which he did with seeming ease.
Having smoked five Cardinal defenders, Olsen dished the ball off to Alex Blake ’03 who was just in front of the goal; Blake one-timed the ball into the top of the Wesleyan net to make it a 1-0 Eph advantage.
Olsen did some scoring of his own 23 minutes later when Perry Kalmus ’03 found him in front of the net with a chip from the left side. Olsen collected the ball with his chest before slamming it home for the 2-0 lead.
After the game, Russo cited Olsen’s effort in the first half as being particularly impressive: “I thought Ryan Olsen had a tremendous game, he was outstanding â€“ he’s really starting to come on.”
Wesleyan did what they could to make a game of it in the second half, scoring a goal three minutes in. Despite Wesleyan’s best efforts, Williams was simply the better team, and when the Ephs scored their third goal 11 minutes later, Wesleyan seemed to run out of gas.
After Khari Stephenson ’04 got tripped up in the 18-yard box, Williams was granted a penalty kick which Blake promptly sent home.
In the 67th minute, Blake returned the favor and assisted on a Stephenson goal. Blake fed a pass through the defense which was received by a running Stephenson; Stephenson took a touch and stepped around the Cardinal goalkeeper before sending the ball into the Wesleyan goal to give the Ephs a 4-1 lead.
Ned Castle ’06 closed out the scoring on the day with his first goal of the season, on which Jesse Dungan ’04 assisted.
“Wesleyan’s a good team and for us to score five goals and to beat them two days in a row, I think that’s a tribute to our guys,” Russo said. “I thought they were focused today, I think they realized that this is it, it’s do or die â€“ our guys came to play, now we’re just hoping we can bottle that and have it carry on over into next weekend.”
Beyond the importance of the victory with regard to the Ephs’ Championship aspirations, the game was the Cole Field send-off for some of the program’s most cherished contributors. After the game, co-captains Alex Blake and Dylan Smith ’03 spoke about what the effort meant for the team and for themselves.
“I thought we played much better today than we did yesterday,” Blake said. “I think everyone realizes that from now on if we lose we’re out so there’s a sense of urgency, a sense of panic that gives us that fire that you need to bring with you into the game.
“Everybody came out together, everybody was fighting really hard. From now on if we keep coming out with that chemistry and that peaking that are both coming together right now we are sure that we’ll show everybody that we are still kings of the NESCAC, kings of New England. I’m sure we’re going to surprise a lot of people.
“For me, this was a very emotional day, my father was here, it was my last game here â€“ I still can’t believe that, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m very pleased that I ended my career here with two goals so that I could give the people who came out to support me and the team all these years a good show.”
“In terms of this being my last game here I was very proud of the team,” Smith said. “It was a great effort all-around, I really thought everyone picked up their intensity today. This is kind of a new season for us now, every game is an elimination game â€“ we know that, everybody on the field knows that and we know what we’re playing for.”
The Ephs will now turn their eyes to Saturday’s showdown with the Middlebury Panthers. Williams took it to Middlebury in the two teams’ meeting this year, coming away with a convincing 3-0 win in which the Panthers looked legitimately overmatched.
It was not clear as of game-time that the Ephmen would be playing the Panthers next weekend, however, and the two teams that the members of the team seemed to be focusing in on were Bowdoin and Amherst. The Polar Bears handed the Ephs their first loss of the season, and the only one they sustained on their home field as Bowdoin pulled off a 3-2 victory in overtime.
Two weekends ago, Williams had no answers for the Lord Jeffs as Amherst came away with a 3-0 triumph.
“If we come up against a Bowdoin or an Amherst we look forward to playing those guys more than anybody,” Smith said. “Those two have had our number this year and we’re thinking we can really get them back, especially in a playoff game where we’re putting it all on the line. The team’s really gelling now and we’re looking forward to playing those guys again.”
“Amherst and Bowdoin are both good teams,” Blake said. “Amherst has a more skillful team than Bowdoin I think but we’re definitely better than both of them. There’s nothing we’d like more than to beat Amherst on Saturday, and then beat Bowdoin’s ass on their home field on Sunday.”
“I’d love to play either of them because we need to redeem ourselves and if we play like this it’s going to take a hell of a performance to beat us,” Russo said. “If a team can beat us when we play like this then, well, you tip your cap to them. I told the boys that if they can play like they did today they’re going to be extremely difficult to beat.”
The Ephs will put their dynasty on the line this weekend, but as Russo, Blake and Smith all contend, if Williams can play like it did against Wesleyan on Sunday it should be in prime position to repeat as NESCAC Champions.