Men’s Soccer Secures Second Seed in NESCAC
After an eventful three weeks, Wesleyan men’s soccer has at last concluded regular season activity. The Cardinals made history in the process, won the Little Three title, and secured the 2nd seed in the NESCAC Tournament.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 19, this Cardinal squad made sure they will not soon be forgotten. With a 2-1 victory in Springfield, Mass. over the Western New England University Golden Bears (13-3-1), the Cards improved their record to 10-0-2 for the best start to a season in the program’s 87-year history.
Going into the last non-conference match of the regular season, Wesleyan knew that topping Western New England would prove to be no easy task. While the Cardinals were ranked 9th nationally and 2nd in the NSCAA’s New England region, the Golden Bears were ranked 25th nationally and 4th regionally. While Wesleyan was undefeated, the Golden Bears entered the day hot to trot with a 7-game winning streak.
Predictably, the match was hard-fought from start to finish, with much of the action unfolding around the midfield. Western New England held a slight edge in shots, taking 12 to Wesleyan’s 10. Two of these from each squad were on-goal, and each team’s goalkeeper made two saves.
Wesleyan drew first blood thanks to an impressive burst of effort and athleticism from forward Evan Hazelett ’13. In the 20th minute, co-captain defender Harrison Lewin ’12 launched a long pass from the left side downfield. Hazelett outran two Golden Bear players in his pursuit of the ball before heading it into the net and electrifying the Cardinal bench.
Unfortunately for Wesleyan, that lead would not stand. Western New England drew even in the 57th minute, as forward John Rusin ’12 fired a shot past Adam Purdy ’13. Prior to the conversion, the Cardinals had held opponents scoreless for 646 minutes, spanning eight matches.
However, while being scored on had become an unfamiliar feeling for Wesleyan in recent matches, the team refused to allow their confidence to be shaken. In the 71st minute, Hazelett struck again with another goal, his fourth of the season. From that point, the Cardinals were able to hold on for the 2-1 win. With just a week remaining in the regular season, Wesleyan was set to return to conference competition with their final two matches versus Amherst and Trinity.
On the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 22, the Cardinals journeyed northward to challenge Little Three rivals the Amherst Lord Jeffs in what had become the most anticipated match of the season throughout the NESCAC. Both teams were tied in first place with identical 7-0-1 conference records, and the Lord Jeffs were ranked 4th nationally while the Cardinals were ranked 9th. A win for either would have clinched a top-seed finish along with the luxury of home field advantage for the NESCAC Final Four should they make it so far. Further upping the ante, the victor would claim the Little Three title for 2011, after Williams was defeated 2-1 by Wesleyan and saw a scoreless face off against Amherst earlier in the season.
However, those fans hoping to see the first seed in the NESCAC decided on Saturday would have to wait. As is often the case when two strong teams face off against each other, the match ended in a 0-0 stalemate. Amherst held a 19-13 edge in shots, but Wesleyan’s stellar defense rose to the challenge as they have done countless times this season to keep the Lord Jeffs scoreless. Goalkeeper Purdy made seven saves for his 10th shutout of the season, tying his own Wesleyan record, set in 2009.
A bright spot to come out of the draw for the Cardinals was their first Little Three title in men’s soccer since 1992. Following the match, Wesleyan was 1-0-1 in Little Three competition in 2011, with Amherst finishing middle at 0-0-2, and Williams bringing up the rear at 0-1-1.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 26th, Wesleyan hosted the Trinity Bantams on the last game day before the playoffs. A victory would have given the Cardinals both an undefeated regular season record and the first seed heading into the NESCAC Tournament, yet the team knew this would come as no easy task against a Trinity squad that was tied for third place in the conference with a 5-2-2 record. Indeed, the Bantams had the Cardinals' number and successfully staged a 2-0 upset.
Trinity’s two goals came in the first half within five minutes of each other. In the 18th minute, Bantam forward Timothy Shea received a pass in the middle of the Wesleyan box and put a shot inside the left post, forcing the Cardinals to play from behind for the first time since 2010. Capitalizing on the momentum, Bantam forward and co-captain Dan Mayernick made an impressive run up the right side before netting a cross shot. The second goal marked the first time the Cards had allowed multiple goals since their season opener on Sept. 10th against Bowdoin.
The Cardinals turned up the pressure as the game progressed, taking 13 shots in a second half which saw the majority of the action unfold at Trinity’s end of the field. However, the Bantams were able to bear down and maintain the shutout.
Wesleyan finished the regular season with a 10-1-3 record overall and a 7-1-2 record in NESCAC. While rival Amherst ends with an identical 7-1-2 conference record after also losing on Wednesday afternoon, in a 3-2 match to Connecticut College, Amherst wins the tiebreaker with their superior record against the top four seeded teams (1-0-2 to Wesleyan’s 1-1-1).
Up next for Wesleyan is a home quarterfinal match versus the 7th-seed Middlebury Panthers on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:30 p.m. While the Cardinals are favored, this will surely be no easy match, as the two sides played each other to a 0-0 tie on Oct. 1 in Vermont last time they met. Come out to Jackson Field and cheer on the Cards as they attempt to take their historic season into the NESCAC semifinals.