Undefeated men’s soccer storms to semis

Men’s soccer (13-0-2, 8-0-2 in the NESCAC) has secured its first undefeated regular season since 2000. Having won homefield advantage for the NESCAC playoffs, the top-seeded men toppled Conn. College on Saturday 2-1 after trouncing Middlebury at home 3-1 on Oct. 24.

Kicking off in the NESCAC quarterfinals on Saturday, both Williams and Conn. College were animated and excited for game day. Conn. College played with lots of energy and enthusiasm, securing many opportunities to get on the scoreboard. At 25:32, the Camels successfully found the net, launching the ball past a diving Peter Morrell ’14 for the go-ahead score. The goal, and subsequent 1-0 Conn. College lead, marked the first time all year that the Ephs have trailed at home.

The men quickly responded, however. The Ephs found an opportunity in the 33rd minute when a free kick attempt by Mohammed Rashid ’16 rebounded to a well-positioned Chris Seitz ’15. Seitz then crossed the ball to User Kushaina ’14, who tapped it in the net to even up the score 1-1 at 32:04. The remainder of the half proceeded uneventfully as both sides fought for possession. The score held 1-1 at the end of the first half.

“Conn. College is a very tough team, even though they finished eighth [in the conference]. They were extremely competitive,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “They played very tough with a delayed defense that made it difficult for us to go through them with our passing game, so we had to open up our game a little bit. We did that extremely well, I think.”

The second half saw the Ephs dominate the Camels offensively. At 46:45, just over a minute after the period began, midfielder Patrick Ebobisse ’13 scored. Ebobisse calmly tapped the ball into the unoccupied net after an attempt by Rashid drew the Camel keeper out of goal.

“Patrick [Ebobisse]’s goal was just fantastic,” Russo said. “He showed a lot of composure.”

After securing a 2-1 lead, the men maintained their momentum, controlling the ball for the majority of the second half. A concerted effort by Conn. College kept Williams from capitalizing on its possessions, but the men also thwarted any attempts by their opponents to equalize the score. The men closed out the quarterfinals with a 2-1 triumph.

The win over Conn. College was preceded by the men’s victory in their final game of the regular season against Middlebury on Oct. 24. Playing at home, the men dominated their turf, nearly putting themselves on the scoreboard within the first few seconds. With Ebobisse leading the offensive attack, the Ephs forced the Panthers to play defensively and kept up pressure throughout the half. At 26:40, the Ephs posted a goal when Seitz passed the ball to co-captain Matt Ratajczak ’13, who headed the ball in to put the Ephs up 1-0.

Russo praised Ratajczak’s efforts, commending him and fellow seniors Ebobisse, Than Finan ’13 and co-captain Peter Christman ’13 for their leadership this season. “The seniors have been fantastic,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we’ve done so well. The chemistry is great. Pete [Christman] and Matt [Ratajczak] have been great leaders on and off the field. Patrick [Ebobisse] and Than [Finan] have also shown a lot of leadership in practice, motivating the players and being focused. These are all the things that are necessary. All four of them have been instrumental this season.”

The second half opened with a volley for control that resulted in neither team making headway on scoring. At the 60:11-minute mark, Middlebury broke the back-and-forth rhythm of the game to score a goal on Williams. Facing their first conceded goal at home of the season, the men sought to quickly respond. Two minutes later, Kushaina claimed possession of the ball and calmly struck it to the back of the net. At 62:23, Kushaina’s goal lifted the Ephs to a 2-1 lead over the Panthers. Rashid also found the net at 79:04, when he took up a rebound from his previous attempt, unleashed it into the net and secured the last goal of the game, giving the men a 3-1 victory.

“Middlebury was a very important win for us,“ Russo said. “Although they didn’t have a strong record, they’ve always been a very formidable opponent. Overall, it was a very competitive match and very important in tying Amherst for the championship.”

The men will face Tufts at home in the NESCAC semifinals at 11 a.m. on Saturday.