For the second time in the last two weeks, men’s soccer (8-6-2, 4-4-1 in the NESCAC) couldn’t pull a win against top-seeded Middlebury, and similarly for the second time, fell to the Panthers by a score of 1-0. However, while last week’s game only served as fuel for the fire to motivate the Ephs to a comeback against Bates two days later in the NESCAC quarterfinals, the loss on Saturday effectively ended the postseason and the Ephs’ NCAA hopes, while Middlebury (13-1-2) advanced to fight Amherst for the title.
“We started off really strong this year,” Peter Gordon ’09 said. “But we had a couple of bumps in the road and eventually a couple of ties and losses that kept us out of the NCAAs; because of our record and the teams we lost to this year, we weren’t going to get an at-large bid.”
Despite the inherent challenge in taking on the top-seeded team as only the fourth-seed, the Ephs held their own for much of the game Saturday. Keeper Andrew Graham ’10 recorded five saves. The Eph defense stayed consistent and persistent, until a perfectly-placed corner kick from Middlebury’s Baer Fisher was headed in by teammate Brooks Farrar at 36:39 to put in what would be the only goal of the game. To finish out the half, the Ephs created some great opportunities but couldn’t follow through.
“The game was tough because in the first 30 minutes we felt like we dominated [Middlebury],” Gordon said. “When they scored in the 36th minute that deflated us a little. We went into halftime 1-0 knowing that we had a couple chances early on that we didn’t put away, but we felt like we were still very much in the game.”
At the start of the second half, the Ephs continued to rally in hopes of evening out the score. In the 59th minute the men lined up what looked to be on target, but the shot by co-captain Sam Empson ’09 just barely missed the goal. This has been a fatal pattern for the Ephs this season, as a number of opportunities to score have gone just narrowly unrealized. The team did not see any large offensive opportunities for the remainder of the half. Farrar tried to up the score by one more in taking advantage of an out-of-goal Graham, but the shot sailed wide and the score ended 1-0m Middlebury.
With the conclusion of the season the team graduates several key players. Empson, the team’s leading scorer with 20 points for the season, the dynamic ability of Gordon to make comeback goals for the win and the leadership of co-captain Daniel Curbelo-Zeidman ’09 will surely be missed. The team also graduates midfielders Jay Ingram ’09 and Alex Kramer ’09, defender and midfielder Chris Gocksch ’09, forward Sam Denton-Schneider ’09 and defender Brian Dolezal ’09. “Losing [Empson] will hurt a lot because he was an orchestrator on the field and they’ll need to find someone like that next year,” Gordon said.
Although losing eight seniors is tough for any team, men’s soccer is secure in their line-up for next year. “We are confident we can rebound next year even though we lose a talented senior class,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “We have a good nucleus of players returning and I know they will want to make amends for this year.”