Men’s soccer falls to UChicago 2-0 in NCAA Div. III National Championship game, ending Cinderella run

Izzy Polanco

The Ephs blazed past opponents, including the No. 1 ranked Messiah University Falcons, to advance to the title game. (Photo courtesy of Sports Information.)

The University of Chicago Maroons (22–0–1) defeated the Ephs (10–2–11, 4–1–5 NESCAC) 2-0 in the NCAA Div. III National Championship game on Saturday, putting an end to the Ephs’ Cinderella run. The Ephs earned an at-large berth in the tournament and, after winning a series of tightly contested matches, landed a spot in the championship game for the first time since taking home the national title in 1995.

Last season, then-interim head coach Steffen Seibert led the Ephs to the NESCAC Quarterfinal in his first year with the program, where their postseason play was halted by a 2-1 loss to the eventual 2021 national champions Connecticut College. This year, Seibert assumed the head coach position. “This has been a two-year process for us to get back to the national tournament,” Seibert told Sports Information ahead of the first-round NCAA matchup. “I’m most proud of how the team has grown together over the past two seasons, improving every time we have stepped on the field for a practice or a game.”

Ahead of their first-round matchup with the Ephs, the NYU Violets were ranked third in Region IV. While conference champions are automatically eligible for the tournament, both the Violets and the Ephs — who tied for second in the NESCAC along with Amherst and Middlebury — earned at-large berths, as chosen by the Div. III selection committee based on a combination of stats and peer-reviewed coach rankings.

The NCAA revealed the Ephs’ qualification for the NCAA tournament during the livestreamed annual Men’s Selection Show on Nov. 7. For David Wang ’25, the suspense of watching the reveal as a team, unsure of whether they would qualify, made the defining moment more exciting. “We had no idea whether we were going to get a bid, [while] other at-large [candidates] had more confidence,” he said. “But we didn’t have a great record, and we didn’t know whether we were here to call up or not. We were a borderline team. When they called our name, everyone was super hype.”

Standout first-year defender Cole Morriello ’26 echoed the excitement elicited by the bid’s announcement. “We weren’t even sure if we were going to make it into the NCAA tournament,” he said. “To see our name on the board during the drafting was incredible.”

This year also marks the first time that the men’s soccer team has qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2018 — an experience that only the team’s most senior players remember. For Captain Nick Boardman ’22.5, advancing to the title game meant realizing the team’s goal of qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time since his class’s first year with the program. “I think that what we’ve been trying to do during my four years was really just trying to get Williams back on the national stage,” he said. “It was definitely an exciting moment in my last year [with the team], and hopefully they can continue going forward like this.”

The Ephs secured a 2-1 double overtime win against NYU in the first round of the tournament. Morriello said that the hard-fought victory — the first of two wins that weekend — gave the Ephs the momentum to upset the nationally first-ranked and undefeated Messiah University Falcons in the second round and secure their spot in the Sweet Sixteen round. “Being one of the lower seeds [in the tournament], we were given a super hard strength of schedule, especially with NYU being our first game,” Moriello said. “After we got those two wins in a crazy weekend, everyone was super pumped and really believed and trusted in each other.”

For Wang, who scored the deciding goal to put away Kenyon in the fourth round and advance to the Final Four, the underdog victory against Messiah was one of his favorite moments this season. “One of the most surreal moments was beating Messiah off of penalty kicks,” he said. “I think it was at that moment that the entire team had the attitude of, ‘whoa — we can do this.’” En route to the title game, the Ephs upset three more nationally ranked opponents in close matches.

The title game featured a scoreless first half with even play on both sides and a tightly contested second half until the Maroons converted on a breakaway shot. Throughout the season, the Ephs relied on stellar defensive play to stifle the typically powerful offensive lines of their opponents. According to Moriello, the Maroons’ first goal broke the pattern of maintaining a scoreless record and securing the lead in the final moments that the Ephs had grown accustomed to in their playoff run. “I think we all felt that the longer we kept it a tied game, the higher chance we were going to have to win,” Moriello said. “We were doing really well to start with… [But] even though 1-0 isn’t a huge score, it definitely put us in a spot we’ve never been in before, and it was pretty unfortunate because it was a really far, good shot.”

With six minutes left in the game, the Ephs pursued a counterattack off of an unsuccessful Maroon drive but were unable to convert. UChicago’s defense won the header and cleared the ball to forward Ryan Yetishefsky, who scored an empty-netter to cement the lead at 2-0. Ephs goalkeeper Ben Diffley ’24 finished the season with 92 saves and matched UChicago goalkeeper Will Boyes in conceding just 11 goals.

With the Maroons securing the win, Julianne Sitch became the first woman head coach in the country to lead a men’s team to a national championship in any division of NCAA competition. Sitch also secured the team’s first-ever national championship in her first year in charge, following two stints as an assistant coach with the team.

Though the Ephs came short of securing the national title, players emphasized that their Cinderella playoff bid was the culmination of renewed focus and confidence following early upsets. Diffley noted that this manifested itself in cohesion on and off the field. “Especially late in the season, we really buckled down and bought into what we were doing,” he said. “[It] helped our persona on the field. We were able to do whatever it took to get the win.”

“After each final whistle, the team would get super excited and celebrate,” he continued. “But having the community’s support was also really cool, and definitely helped us going into each game. Knowing that watch parties were happening on campus was really special.”

From a strategic standpoint, Boardman added that the underdog Ephs relied on the forward momentum of small moments. “In the [NESCAC] quarterfinals against Tufts, they scored with six minutes left, and then we were down until — literally — 10 seconds left in the game,” he said. “If we lost that game, we wouldn’t have made the tournament. But the referee called the penalty [on Tufts], and we converted.

“Looking back, there were all these small moments that decided these games and then ended up leading to this Cinderella run,” Boardman continued.

Wang also chalked much of the team’s success up to fifth-year players. “They constituted so much of our team’s culture and skill, and they were a catalyst of our entire run,” he said. “I attribute much of our big postseason push in the NCAA Tournament to them. I couldn’t be happier that they were able to [be a part of] something so cool.”

Reflecting on the season, Diffley said that he is excited to get back to work next year, which will mark his final season with the team. “I’m still processing this past season, … [but] we know what it takes to climb the mountain, so to speak,” he said. “I think we’re excited knowing that we’re all capable of this and that if we put in the work, it’s something that we’re capable of achieving.”