Men’s soccer earns NCAA berth

Despite suffering a heart-breaking loss to Middlebury in the NESCAC finals on Saturday, men’s soccer was recently granted an at-large berth in the NCAA Div. III Tournament. This was encouraging news for the team, whose NESCAC loss constituted only the second time the Ephs have not advanced to the finals in the history of the NESCAC tournament.

Seeded third for the round, Williams (10-4-2, 6-3-1 NESCAC) faced the second seed, Middlebury (13-2-1, 8-1-1 NESCAC) on Saturday at Amherst. Williams held Middlebury to a 1-1 tie throughout regulation and two overtimes, but fell to the Panthers in penalty kicks.

Although Middlebury initiated play more aggressively than Williams and maintained control for much of the first half, the Ephs were able to prevent an early goal. The Panthers had eight shots in the first half, while the Ephs had just one. The half ended scoreless, and Williams came back to the field with more energy and assertion in the second half.

After the break Williams gained momentum and began to make quick passes, dominating play. In the 57th minute, Williams was fully on offense as a perfectly placed cross from Mike Darling ’08 led to a Middlebury own goal. The Ephs’ pressure and aggressiveness paid off, putting Williams up 1-0. The Panthers recovered 15 minutes later, when Stephen Hart had a break away from a through-ball from his teammate. Eph goalie Andrew Graham ’10 charged Hart, who sent a slow shot just passed the keeper. Will Ford ’08 almost ran down and knocked out the ball, but the ball crossed the goal line, and the score was tied. Despite both teams’ various opportunities, neither the Ephs nor the Panthers could score subsequently, forcing the game into overtime.

The tie remained throughout two overtime periods, during which Middlebury played with ferocity but was thwarted by Williams’ defense and the efforts of Graham. Graham played a strong game, making seven saves on the day and keeping the Ephs in the game. Finally, the game and the bid to the NESCAC finals were decided through penalty kicks. Panther keeper Brian Bush saved the shots of the second and third Eph kickers after the first shot hit the crossbar. The Panthers were successful in their shots, giving them a 3-0 penalty kick victory and the chance to play in the final round of the tournament. Middlebury went on to beat Amherst 1-0.

Although this loss ended the Ephs’ journey to a NESCAC championship, their post season is not yet over. It was announced on Monday that the team had earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Div. III Tournament, hosted by Keene State in New Hampshire. On Saturday, Williams will face Eastern Connecticut State (11-6-3) at Keene. If the Ephs are victorious they will advance to take on the winner of the Keene State vs. York (N.Y.) game.

Williams’ bid to NCAA in the wake of their NESCAC loss is an exciting opportunity for the young Eph team, who lost eight starters from the 2006 season. With an overall record of 10-4-2, new and less experienced players have stepped up to work with veterans in games. The depth of the Eph team is seen in the nine players who have had successful shots throughout the season. Leading scorers are Sam Empson ’09, Jay Ingram ’09 and Kit Fuderich ’08, each of whom has four goals thus far. The defense, led by Ford and Graham, proved its strength against Middlebury and will be a key factor in the team’s success this weekend.

Williams will play Eastern Connecticut State on Saturday at a time to be announced.