Last weekend, the Wesleyan men’s soccer team traveled to Rutgers-Camden University as one of the 64 teams selected to compete in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.
On Saturday evening, the Cardinals started things off with a 1-0 shutout of the Misericordia University Cougars (13-3-4) to earn a spot in a second-round match—to be played the following evening—against the host, the Scarlet Raptors. Unfortunately for the members of “Cardinal Country” who stuck around to watch, it was the wrong set of redbirds who would emerge triumphant, as the Raptors (18-2-2) officially ended the Cards’ 2011 season with a 2-1 victory.
In the 24th minute of the match against Misericordia, Wesleyan midfielder Rory O’Neill ’13 received a ball at the top of the box from forward Walter Rodriguez ’13 and deposited it inside the left post. The goal, his team-leading seventh of the season, proved to be all the Cardinals would need as the defense put on a stalwart display to carry the team to victory. Co-captain Harrison Lewin ’12 turned in a particularly solid performance, and goalkeeper Adam Purdy ’13 made five saves for his 23rd career shutout as Wesleyan won 1-0.
On Sunday, Rutgers-Camden took the lead in the 21st minute, as Raptor forward Mitch Grotti received a long ball up the right side from defender Brian Hill that he deposited just beyond Purdy and inside the far post. The Raptors kept the Cardinals at bay for the remainder of the first half, but it was the Cards who would strike next. In the 56th minute, forward Noah Schlesinger ’13 sent a cross from the right side into the center of the box, where it met the head of a diving Evan Hazelett ’13, sailed past the Rutgers keeper, and tied things up 1-1.
The two sides fought hard for the rest of regulation, but it was Rutgers-Camden who got the last laugh. In the 84th minute, forward Corey Beltran ran the ball unassisted to the top of the Wesleyan box and ripped a shot that ricocheted off the inside of the left post and into the net to put the Raptors up by a score of 2-1.
While Wesleyan would certainly have liked to experience their first ever NCAA Sweet 16 berth, they still found various other ways to make history over the course of their stellar 2011 campaign.
This season, Wesleyan was ranked in the NSCAA coaches’ poll as high as ninth nationally among all Division III men’s soccer teams, and outscored opponents by a tally of 23-11. The Cardinals posted an overall record of 11-3-3, including a 7-1-1 record in the NESCAC regular season, which earned them a berth in the conference tournament as the second seed. While the Cards were defeated 3-2 by Middlebury in the quarterfinals of the tournament, their tournament appearance marked the third year in a row that they have had the honor of competing.
En route to the postseason, the 2011 Wesleyan squad achieved the best start in the program’s 87-year history on Wednesday, Oct. 19, when they improved to 10-0-2 with a 2-1 away victory over Western New England University. Three days later, on Saturday, Oct. 22, the Cardinals battled Amherst to a 0-0 tie in another away match, taking the Little Three Title in the process for the first time since 1994 due to their 1-0-1 Little Three record.
One of the key elements of Wesleyan’s winning season was a stellar defense. On the strength of their backfield, the Cardinals held opponents scoreless for 646 minutes over the course of eight matches, spanning from Sept. 24 to Oct. 19. Purdy also managed a personal milestone during the season, setting a new Wesleyan record with his 18th career shutout on Saturday, Oct. 1. With Purdy’s help, the Cardinals held opponents scoreless 11 times this season, and Purdy’s career shutout total currently stands at 23.
Purdy’s performance earned him NESCAC first-team honors for the second time in his career, the first being his 2009 rookie season. Furthermore, his credentials over 10 conference games this year include a .898 save percentage (second best in NESCAC), a 4.40 saves/game average (tied for third), and a total of 44 saves (tied for fourth). He is joined by midfielder Rory O’Neill, who led the Cardinals with seven goals overall (fourth), two assists, and 16 points in conference competition.