Men’s soccer heads to NCAA Sectionals

After a tough loss to Middlebury in the NESCAC semifinals, men’s soccer moved on last weekend, playing in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. The men dominated Eastern Connecticut, 2-0 in the first round of the tournament, and followed with another win on Sunday, 2-1 against host team Keene State. The Ephs’ two victories in the tournament in Keene, N.H., propelled them into the Sectionals against Middlebury this Saturday.

Sunday was the second time that Williams (12-4-2) met Keene State (15-5-5) this fall, having suffered a 1-0 defeat to the Owls on Sept. 26. The Ephs avenged their earlier loss, with Conor Smith ’10 catapulting Williams to the win with his two goals.

Keene State got on the scoreboard before Williams in the first half. At the 26 minute mark, senior Caleb Patterson converted a cross to give the Owls a 1-0 advantage. However, the Ephs rallied just seven minutes later when rookie forward Gaston Kelly ’11 sent a cross to the head of Smith, who punched the ball in. The score remained tied for the rest of the first half, although Williams created several scoring opportunities.

The Ephs maintained their pressure in the second half keeping the ball in the Owls’ end and continuing to work for opportunities. Smith notched another goal on another header into the net. Sixty-six minutes into the game Will Ford ’08 crossed to Smith who converted for his second goal of the match to put the Ephs up 2-1. The Ephs held their lead through tight and relentless defense for the rest of the game, securing the 2-1 win to advance to the NCAA Sectionals this weekend. Head Coach Mike Russo expressed contentment with both the play of his seniors and that of some younger players, such as Kelly and Smith. “I couldn’t be prouder,” Russo said. “We’re just delighted to still be playing soccer.”

The Ephs were only able to face Keene State after defeating Eastern Connecticut (11-7-3) on Saturday in the first round of the tournament. Mike Darling ’08 and Ryan Pelletier ’08 each netted a goal to lead the team to a 2-0 victory over the Warriors. Darling’s opportunity came only ten minutes into the game, when the team’s skillful passing found him open in the upper right corner of the box. Darling’s shot right past the Warrior goalie and into the left corner of the goal. With relentless play, the Ephs held onto this 1-0 lead for the rest of the half.

In the second half, Pelletier added another goal to the shut-out when he advanced the ball past Eastern Conn. goalie in a one-on-one showdown. The Warriors responded to these goals by picking up their play, but were unable to retaliate with a goal of their own due to the Ephs tight defense. Williams held on to the 2-0 win, advancing to the second round to defeat Keene State, 2-1 the next day.

Last Thursday, following the end of men’s soccer’s conference play, four Ephs earned All-NESCAC honors. Midfielder/forward Pelletier ’08 was awarded First Team All-NESCAC, while classmates Kit Fuderich ’08 and Nathan Elwood ’08 and Sam Empson ’09 were named to the Second Team All-NESCAC. Pelletier, who switched from defense to midfielder this season in an attempt to evenly distribute the more experienced players on the field, has three goals and three assists and has been a team leader on the field. Forward Fuderich and midfielder Empson are tied with Jay Ingram ’09 for the most goals on the team, each with four. Elwood leads the Ephs’ defense, but has also notched two goals and two assists this season.

This weekend the team will face Middlebury in the Sectionals of the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s match-up will be the third time the Ephs have played the Panthers this fall. Middlebury won the first game 1-0 and again two weekends ago in penalty kicks of the NESCAC semifinals. The Ephs (12-4-2) will take on the Panthers (15-2-1) yet again at 11:00am this Saturday at the NCAA Sectional hosted by Middlebury.

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