In yet another game filled with the suspense and drama that has come to characterize this year’s season, the men’s soccer team triumphed over the previously undefeated Lord Jeffs, two goals to one, in overtime. The 10-0-2 overall, 6-0-2 in-conference Amherst squad came to Wes on Saturday, Oct. 18 to face the Cardinals in a high-stakes, high-attendance Homecoming match.
“This was the biggest game of my life so far,” said Matt Lynch ’15. “Amherst had a 37-win, consecutive, unbeaten streak in the conference, three whole seasons without losing a game in the NESCAC. [They had] all these great statistics on their part. It was more motivation for us to play as well as we should have.”
A slew of other factors brought the game’s brew to a boil. In addition to pitting Wesleyan against the Goliath that was Amherst, Saturday’s match against the Little Three rival held the Cardinals’ position in the NESCAC tournament at stake. The weekend’s crowd of alumni added to this all-or-nothing attitude.
“It being Homecoming, the mentality was that a win would revitalize our season [and] revitalize our chances in the playoffs,” said Adam Cowie-Haskell ’18. “Offensively, we knew that once we got an opportunity, we had to finish. Against a team like Amherst, those are extremely important opportunities that we’re going to get. So it was all-in, or nothing.”
The Cardinals’ choice was clear. In the first period, Wesleyan matched Amherst in total shots, five each. Defensively, the back line and veteran goalkeeper Emmett McConnell ’15 kept it tight and didn’t allow any shots into the net. The Lord Jeffs did the same, however, leaving both teams scoreless into the half.
“Emmett came up really big in both the first half and the second half, keeping us in the game,” Lynch said. “We knew [after the half] it was time for us to score. We needed that goal to keep us going forward, to better our chances of winning. Coming into the second half, we knew we had to get things on frame, we knew we had to test the keeper, and we did just that.”
Indeed, after a silent first period, Lynch stepped up to fire a shot into the back of the net with a perfect assist from Omar Bravo ’15. A veteran striker, Lynch notched his third score of the season in the 64th minute of the game.
“Nick Jackson [’18] had the ball in the midfield,” Lynch said. “He passed it out wide to Omar, who hit a first-time cross—which was quite honestly the most beautiful pass I’ve gotten all season—and I finished it on top of the twelve-yard line. The goalie didn’t even move because it was so quick.”
And the crowd went wild.
“Immediately, there was a sense of happiness and excitement within the team,” Lynch said. “But at the same rate, we knew we still had to play even harder than we were before. Teams have a general tendency to slack off as soon as they score, and people say the most vulnerable time in a game is right after the other team scores.”
Lynch’s fear was realized less than ten minutes after he scored. Overwhelming Wesleyan in total shots during the second period by a 10-3 differential, Amherst replied to Lynch’s goal in kind and tied the game at one apiece in the 73rd minute. Despite Amherst’s offensive onslaught, McConnell kept the game tied with five saves in that period alone, sending the match into overtime.
“The mentality was that we’ve worked this hard; we’re not going to lose that game,” Cowie-Haskell said.
And the first-year made sure of it, stepping up to secure a Wesleyan win. Less than five minutes in, Cowie-Haskell took the only shot of overtime—the shot that ended the game.
“It was on a long throw-in, which is ironic because Amherst’s game plan is [to] just throw the ball into the box,” he said. “It was one of their players that flicked it on over my head. I saw the ball going up and over, and after looking at the video, I know that the defender didn’t expect my first touch. That touch took it back the other way where I was able to swing my right foot around and hit it like a volley into the net. The goalie didn’t even move. The goalie did not move for either of our goals. He’s an all-American goalie.”
Cowie-Haskell earned his second NESCAC Player of the Week award for netting yet another game-winning goal; the previous one came in the first week of the season against Eastern Connecticut State University. This was his first score of the season.
Winning is always great. Ending a team’s 37-game win streak, though, is priceless. Especially when that team is Amherst. Saturday’s win propelled the Cards’ record to 7-3-2 overall and 5-2 in the ’Cac, poising Wesleyan to take second place in the conference. After the game, players celebrated over fall break, on or off campus, and took a well-earned rest.
The team’s hiatus, however, was short-lived: three important conference games continue through this week and into the next. Wednesday’s match hosting Trinity was postponed to Thursday night due to inclement weather. On Saturday, Oct. 25, the Cards are headed to Vermont to face Middlebury. The team will conclude its regular season at home against Conn. College next Wednesday, Oct. 29. Despite the weekend’s awesome victory, the team is looking ahead rather than lingering behind.
“Looking forward, we really need to get off that [Amherst] game,” Lynch said. “That can’t be the high of our season; it has to just be one landmark of our season. So when we’re playing against Trinity [on Thursday], it’s really important that all the players on the team realize that there are still three more games left in the season, with opportunities for tournaments after that.”
Lynch added that the team is striving to win all three of its upcoming games.
“That’ll hopefully give us a home game for the first round of [NESCAC] playoffs,” he said. “That’s really what we want. We’ve been doing a great job of securing our possibility of getting into the tournament, now it’s just [about] getting a little ahead in the conference.”
Cowie-Haskell added that the team is riding on its momentum from the win against Amherst.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “If we win out the season, [these] last three games, we get second place in the NESCAC, and that would be huge. We’re going to be playing hard.”