Matt Lynch ’15 netted his second golden goal of the year, Omar Bravo ’15 assisted on a late game-winner for the second straight game, and the men’s soccer team bettered the Conn. College Camels 1-0 in overtime on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in New London, Conn.
The goal came just over 90 seconds into the overtime period. Bravo put a beautiful chip pass over the defense to Lynch, whose quickness was too much for Camel keeper Max Nichols. Lynch finished on a nice touch to secure the second seed for the Cards in the upcoming NESCAC tournament.
Goalkeeper Emmett McConnell ’15 earned his sixth shutout of the season, making seven saves and extending his scoreless streak to almost 350 minutes over four games. McConnell was challenged in the first half, making five saves, but saw little pressure thereafter.
Captain Daniel Issroff ’15 returned for the Birds after missing most of the season following surgery. He was back in top form, immediately returning to the flow of the offense and firing two shots on goal. Brandon Sousa ’16 also had a decent scoring chance, forcing Nichols to come up with a save.
The Cardinals finished the season with a 7-3 NESCAC record. Of those ten games, nine of them have been decided by a score of 1-0. Wesleyan is last in the NESCAC in scoring and third in the league in goals against. Unsurprisingly given those team stats, no Cardinal player ranked in the top 10 in scoring or points this year. Of the top-three teams in the league, all in the Little Three, only Amherst had a player register in the NESCAC top 10 in points or goals this year.
Head Coach Geoff Wheeler did not see this lack of a singular go-to scorer as an issue, supporting the approach that brought his team to this point.
“Good defending can be more important than a potent attack,” he said.
The Cards’ regular season exceeded expectations. They managed to retain control despite game suspensions that many members of the team faced at the start of the season. They also filled in for the loss of All-Americans Adam Purdy ’13 and Rory O’Neill ’13 with an effective combination of recruits and promoted players from the bench and the junior varsity squad. Wheeler credits more than players’ skills and looks instead to the team’s intangible strength in explaining its success.
“I think there is a real belief and confidence this team has that is beyond its years in experience,” he said.
Still, McConnell shone on the stat sheet as well. He never appeared in net for the Cardinals before this season, but finished first in the league in save percentage, third in goals against average, and third in shutouts. Wheeler started three goalies in the first three games for Wes, finally settling on McConnell, who posted a 7-4-1 record.
“Emmett has been fantastic this year,” Wheeler said. “He won the job early with his consistent shot-stopping and management of the penalty box.”
Wesleyan was able to secure the second seed only because Williams, who owned the tiebreaker against the Cardinals, lost 2-1 in a shocking upset to Hamilton. Hamilton had to win to make the playoffs for the first time in school history and did so by defeating the second-place Ephs, leapfrogging Trinity to earn the eighth seed.
Because the Cardinals moved up to second in the conference, they will not have to face an imposing Amherst team until the championship round. The Lord Jeffs, currently on a 36-game unbeaten streak, will open the playoffs against one of the only opponents to make them seem mortal this season. Hamilton played them to a 1-1 tie earlier this season, one of the Jeffs’ two non-wins this season.
Conn. College finished the season as the seventh seed, so Wesleyan will play the Camels again to open the postseason. The Cardinals have won 14 of 15 against the only more southerly NESCAC school, their only defeat coming in October 2012. The two teams have never met in this league’s playoffs. They’ll take the pitch on Jackson Field this Saturday, Nov. 2 as part of the Homecoming celebration.