After 110 minutes of soccer, which left the men’s soccer teams from Williams (16-4) and Arcadia (22-3) even at nil-nil, the Ephs were shown their exit from the NCAA Tournament following a 5-4 defeat in a round of penalty kicks.
The result marks the second straight year in which the Ephs’ season has come to a close after being on the losing end of penalty kicks; nonetheless, whereas last year’s loss to Worcester State was a stunning upset, this year’s team members have far more reason to hold their heads high.
“[Arcadia] wasn’t even close to the team we were,” co-captain Dylan Smith ’03 said. “They were playing for the tie after the half. We were obviously the better team today so we’re definitely disappointed; it’s a better feeling than last year, though, we left it all out of the field it just didn’t go our way, and that’s just the way it turned out.”
“The tournament was very positive,” co-captain Alex Blake ’03 said. “We left everything out on the field today, and afterward everyone could look each other in the eye and say ‘I gave my best.’
“At the end of the day anything can happen in soccer, particularly when it comes down to penalty kicks. I feel much better about the team this year than about any other year â€“ everybody cared for each other, there were no egos; this team was really our team, not the coach’s team, not the alumni’s team, we did things our way.”
Ben Swan, Ylber Mezani, Tom DeGeorge â€“ the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Player of the Year â€“ Justin Clark and John Barry each scored for the newly crowned Regional Champions from Arcadia, though it was goalkeeper Ralph Giangiulio who was the hero.
Giangiulio saved the second Williams shot, taken by Khari Stephenson ’04, the NESCAC Player of the Year and the hero of the Ephs’ 4-1 victory over Richard Stockton, and his Arcadia teammates each slid their attempts past the Eph goalkeeper, Nick Armington ’06. Scoring for the Ephs were Blake, Ryan Olsen ’04, Bryan McCoy ’04 and Smith.
“I feel like it’s my fault that the team lost,” Stephenson said. “I know it’s not the end of the world though. Today the team played very well, I wouldn’t say they outplayed us at all; we just didn’t get enough clear cut chances unfortunately.”
Williams out-shot Arcadia 24-14 on the day, and much of the credit belongs to Giangiulio for preserving the tie; indeed, Giangiulio made several fantastic saves, including one with time winding down in the overtime period following a shot from Josh Bolton ’06.
The loss brings to a close the dreams of a Cinderella story conclusion for the Williams faithful. Indeed, this year’s team righted what seemed to be a shaky ship in the early going and emerged the Champions of the NESCAC by posting a miraculous win the semifinals before soundly defeating an Amherst team that had beaten the Ephs 3-0 two weeks earlier.
With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament guaranteed by their conference title, the Ephs defeated the defending Div. III National Champions from Richard Stockton 4-1 in the NCAA round of 32 on Saturday before yesterday’s Regional Championship game.
The loss also marks the end of the storied careers of several Eph seniors. Two players followers of the Ephs will not soon forget are Blake and Smith, both of whom served as co-captains for the team this year.
In his career, Blake, a three-time NSCAA First Team All-American, was named Rookie of the Year, NESCAC Player of the Year twice and NSCAA Div. III Player of the Year last season; the Kingston, Jamaica native also owns virtually every offensive scoring record in College history.
“I see this as a very good ending to my career,” Blake said. “I got to spend my last year with true soccer players, true individuals in terms of team camaraderie. Everybody worked very hard, everybody gave their all, and if everybody does that you can’t be angry at the results; knowing that we played every game as a team, that’s the next best thing to winning a national championship.”
This season Smith, who brought stability and a dominating presence to an Eph defense that allowed only 15 goals in 20 contests, was also named a First-Team All-NESCAC selection.
Before yesterday’s loss, the team reeled off its most impressive win in years on Saturday as it posted a 4-1 victory over the defending Div. III National Champions from Richard Stockton. Stephenson scored a season-high three goals on the day as the Ephmen played the Ospreys off the field.
He got the Ephs rolling in the 11th minute of play when he received a pass from Romel Wallen ’04 and sent a blast into the upper corner of the goal to give Williams an early 1-0 lead.
Following 30 minutes of heated soccer, Stephenson made it a 2-0 Eph advantage in the 41st minute of play on a beautiful header goal off a feed from Blake. Blake’s cross found Stephenson in the middle of the box and the giant junior sent it home for his second goal of the day.
The Ephs let their guard down at the end of the first half, however, and allowed Richard Stockton to tally a goal with 15 seconds remaining in the period when a shot from Jamie Nelson hit off the crossbar and Chris Meyrick sent the rebound past Armington.
Despite the gaffe at the end of the first half, the Ephs came out swinging to start the second period, and it was Stephenson again who found the back of the net for Williams, with the assist credited to Wallen. As if to make up for the rebound goal at the end of the first half, Stephenson’s shot ricocheted off the post before going into the net.
Blake put the game out of reach in the 75th minute of play when McCoy sent a pass to him in the middle of the box after charging down the right flank with the ball.
The Ephs began their run toward a national title with a 3-1 victory over the Salve Regina Seahawks (10-12-2) in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament in front of 200-plus fans down at Cole Field. Blake netted two goals for the Ephmen, who controlled the pace of play but nonetheless looked sluggish in the victory.
“It was a less than inspiring performance,” Williams Head Coach Mike Russo said. “ I thought we had a very sluggish performance. I thought Alex turned things around a little with the goals in the first half but I was nervous.”