Men’s soccer (13-6, 6-4 in the NESCAC) seems to have saved its best soccer for the Div. III NCAA tournament, as its offense came roaring to life with an impressive eight goals in two games. After holding their breath last weekend waiting for the selection committee’s decision, the Ephs certainly proved they belonged in the Div. III NCAA tournament last weekend. The men dispatched a stumbling Elms 4-0 on Saturday and Western New England 4-1 on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 round for the second straight year.
On Saturday, the men hosted Elms in the first round of the Div. III NCAA tournament. The well-prepared squad took the game to Elms immediately, creating a chance just six minutes in. Jonathan Westling ’16 played a through ball to Rashid Mohammad ’16, but Elms keeper Christian Kotka stopped his shot. The Ephs continued to dominate possession and create chances, finding a breakthrough in the 21st minute. Chris Conder ’15, filling in for injured left back Andres Burbank-Crump ’15, whipped in a free kick that was headed on by Luke Pierce ’15. Forward Matt Kastner ’14 was waiting at the back post to tap it into an empty net, putting the Ephs ahead 1-0.
The Ephs came close to doubling their lead before halftime, but Kotka again nicely saved a volley by forward User Kushaina ’14 that was set up by nice work from winger Zach Grady ’15.
In the second half, the Ephs did not let up, doubling their advantage in the 52nd minute. Kastner was fouled just outside the 18-yard box. Conder took the ensuing free kick. He placed the ball perfectly on the head of Westling, who netted the Ephs’ second goal from about six yards out, giving the men a 2-0 lead.
As Elms pressed more, trying to chase the game, Williams found even more holes. Nine minutes after Westling doubled the lead, speedy winger Malcolm Moutenot ’17 joined the scoring party. Moutenot won a 50-50 challenge near midfield and found himself through on goal. With Rashid streaking down his left and occupying the lone defender’s attention, Moutenot slotted the ball past the Elms keeper to give the Ephs a 3-0 lead at 60:54.
With the win all but secured, Head Coach Mike Russo made some major changes, giving players who hadn’t seen a lot of the field this season significant game time. Eager to prove themselves, the new Ephs picked up right where their teammates left off. Center midfielder JC Bahr-de Stefano ’17 slid a pass to co-captain Dan Lima ’14, who rocketed his shot into the net for his second goal in as many games at 70:58. The score stood at 4-0, which proved enough for the win.
After breezing past Elms on Saturday, the Ephs expected stiffer competition against Western New England on Sunday. Sure enough, after five minutes, the Ephs found themselves behind. Western New England rookie Brian Bolger powered a close-range header from a corner kick past a helpless co-captain Peter Morrell ’14.
It took almost the entire half for the Ephs to shake off their early nerves and settle into the game, as they finally created two good scoring chances in the last five minutes of the half. A shot by Lima hit the side netting, and Grady’s free kick went just over the crossbar.
Refusing to panic, the Ephs continued their momentum into the second half, as it only seemed a matter of time before they tied the game. Their first goal came in the 64th minute. Conder sent a free kick toward the six-yard box where it was powered into the back of the net by Westling’s head.
After the first goal, the wheels came off the Western New England defense, and the men created chances at will. The Ephs broke through again on an attack in the 68th minute, as Matt Muralles ’15 continued his habit of scoring important goals. Muralles received a pass from Rashid just outside the 18-yard box, took a touch and rifled a shot that was deflected by a Western New England defender and completely wrong footed the keeper, bringing the score to 2-1.
The Ephs, though, were not done, as they struck again in the 75th minute off a corner kick. Conder whipped in another lovely corner kick toward the Bears’ six-yard box. Center back Luke Pierce ’15 soared above the Bears’ defense and drove his header into the back of the net. The goal gave Conder his third assist on the weekend from a set piece.
One minute later, though, Westling sealed the Ephs’ victory. Moutenot raced down the right flank, playing a cross to the back post where Rashid was waiting. Rashid headed the ball across goal where a Bear defender completely botched his clearance. Westling picked up the loose ball and fired into the back of the net for Williams’ eighth goal of the weekend, locking up the game 4-1 for the men.
“We’ve been creating chances all season, but have not been quite as good at finishing these chances,” Russo said. “Last weekend, we showed some composure in the penalty box and were able to score eight goals in two games, which is difficult to do. We were able to get around the corner and play good balls into the opponent’s penalty box and get people on the end to finish them.”
This weekend, the men travel to Amherst to compete in the Sweet 16 and play Brandeis on Saturday. The winner will then face the winner of the Amherst-Lawrence game in the Elite Eight on Sunday. At the conclusion of the tournament, the men will graduate five seniors.