When asked about the team’s ambitions at the beginning of the season, tri-captain Adam Purdy ’13 said, “this season, with the talent and experience we have, we expect to compete for a NESCAC title and a National Championship.” It appeared early on that he might have been prophetic.
The weeks leading up to this past one had been kind to the Cardinals. Before playing Eastern Connecticut State and NESCAC opponent Conn College, the Cardinals sported a 7-1-2 record (5-1-2 NESCAC), had only conceded three goals in 10 games, and had beaten up on many competitive NESCAC schools. They played a scoreless draw against traditional Little Three rival Williams College (9-0-2 overall, 6-0-2 NESCAC), and were poised to crack into the national top 25 against #24 Eastern Connecticut State (11-0-1). If the Cardinals go on to win the NESCAC championship and compete for a national title, this week will be regarded as a small blip in a magnificent campaign. If they do not advance far in either competition, this week will likely be seen as the moment when the wheels came off. On Wednesday, Oct. 10, Eastern Connecticut State beat the visiting Cardinals 1-0, and exactly one week later Conn College (4-2-6 overall, 1-2-6 NESCAC) replicated that result against the Cardinals in Middletown.
Wesleyan was not supposed to lose to Eastern Conn. Despite controlling pace, possession, and the run of play, Wesleyan fell to the undefeated team and squandered their first opportunity to become nationally ranked. Chances were copious and shots flew off the feet of the Wesleyan forwards at a pace never seen before. One small indication of the control that the Cardinals exerted was the number of shots midfielder Chris Kuehn ’13 racked up. As a point of comparison, Kuehn’s toal was three times the total number of shots that the entire Eastern Conn team took all game. Wesleyan managed to so completely dominate its in-state competition that the shot total at the end of the game was 26-3 in the losing team’s favor. ECS scored in the eighth minute and immediately retreated to weather the onslaught. They did not take a single shot in the entirety of the second half and somehow managed to still come out on top. Wesleyan’s offense proved to be off-target and unable to find net, forcing the ECS keeper to make just five saves, despite taking so many shots.
After such a shocking result in which the Cardinals’ finishing proved to be the problem, the team focused more on creating solid chances against Connecticut College. This focus paid off. Despite a substantial decline in shots from 26 to 11, they managed to up their number on target from five to six. Unfortunately, efficiency means little if the ball never goes in the net, and Conn College put one home in the 67th minute. The Camels approached goal, and Matt Bitchell ripped a shot on net which keeper Purdy miraculously managed to stop. His parry sent the ball soaring towards the left side of the goal where it was poached by the head of Camel forward Billy Hawkey. The Cardinals took a few furious chances in the wake of this, including an infuriatingly confusing goal-mouth scramble that included shots by forward Evan Hazelett ’13 and winger Noah Schlesinger ’13. However, they were unable to find the back of the net yet again, and the game concluded 1-0 in favor of the away team.
Despite two disappointing results, the Cardinals remain optimistic. Adam Marcu ’13 spoke of the team’s continued commitment to achieve the goals laid out by Purdy in preseason remarks.
“Our goals haven’t changed,” Marcu said. “We want to win the NESCAC, we want to win the NESCAC tournament, and we want to win the NCAA tournament. Being happy with anything less, I believe, would be underselling ourselves.”
These are confident remarks to be sure, but the sentiment is no doubt shared by the rest of the team. The Cardinals are loaded with the talent to compete, but bogged down by what Schlesinger calls “hard-to-summon intangibles, and less-than-perfect finishing around goal.” Wesleyan has yet to play a game in which it is dominated. They have lost only three games this entire year, each by no more than a single goal. They are already assured a playoff berth, and still have a very outside chance at capturing the NESCAC regular season title.
This Saturday marks perhaps the most important match of the year, as the Cardinals host undefeated Little Three rival Amherst. The Lord Jeffs haven’t just beaten or tied every NESCAC team they have faced, they have absolutely slaughtered them. Their record includes a a 6-0 drubbing over NESCAC fifth seed Trinity just last week. They have coupled the league’s best offense (by an increasingly wide margin) with the best defense (by an equally wide margin). They have only conceded one goal all year, and that was while fielding a team comprised mostly of substitutes and second-stringers during a 5-1 massacre of Hamilton. To even draw the Lord Jeffs would place the Cardinals in rarified territory, as league #2 Williams College is currently the only school to achieve any result other than a loss against the presumptive league leaders (0-0 on Oct. 6). Following the Amherst game, Wesleyan will conclude the regular season next Wednesday, Oct. 24 at in-state rival Trinity College, with the hopes that they will even be close to approaching the drubbing that Amherst gave the Bantams. Jackson Field is sure to be a madhouse this weekend when the Cardinals do battle against their rivals before the homecoming crowd. The stakes are high, and the Cardinals simply must take advantage of the few chances they are likely to get. They simply cannot afford another disheartening loss.