With the excitement of a 1-0 overtime victory against Western New England College still on their minds, the men’s soccer team traveled to Lewiston, ME to take on their NESCAC rival, the Bates Bobcats, this past Saturday. Despite a hard-fought battle and similar stats on the box score, Bates emerged with a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals. The NESCAC loss would be the Cardinals’ second of the season, having dropped only one of two conference matchups they had played at that point. However, on Wednesday, the team traveled to Tufts, to take on the favored Jumbos, and the Red Birds pulled off the upset in Medford. A Nick Jackson ’18 header found the back of the net at the end of the first half for Wesleyan off a free kick assist from senior captain Charlie Gruner ’17. With the victory, the Cardinals record improved to 4-2-1 con the season, including a 1-2-0 mark in NESCAC play.
Jackson weighed in on what can make the Cards successful in such a competitive conference.
“A lot of the NESCAC is eliminating small mistakes and sticking to a game plan,” said the junior back. “As a defender, it is essential that I am always tuned into the game and am constantly organizing those in front of me. My first two years have taught me these principles and I am continuing to work on them in year three.”
Against Bates, the two teams were evenly matched for much of the first half. At 35:33, however, Luke McNabb beat Wesleyan netminder Jack Katkavich ’17 to the back of the net to score the game’s first goal. Bates would add another tally six minutes later when Matt Divite scored to give the Bobcats a 2-0 advantage. The game remained scoreless the rest of the way despite good offensive output from both teams. Bates tallied 15 shots on the day, 5 of which were on net, while Wesleyan totaled 13 shots, 3 of which were on target. Wesleyan won the corner kick battle with eight against Bates’ two. Mike Gallo ’20 led the Red Birds with four shots on the day and Katkavich tallied three saves.
On Tuesday, traveling to Tufts for a game under the lights, the home team presented a true test for the 2016 Cardinal squad. Coming off their second NESCAC loss of the year, the team looked to rebound and find their fighting spirit. Similar to their previous matchup, the two teams battled for much of the first half to no avail, but Jackson’s first career goal just 17 seconds before the half gave the Cardinals a lead going into the locker room. On the play, Gruner set up for a free kick just inside the half and played a beautiful ball into the box for Jackson to play.
“The boys were buzzing all half and I just wanted to give one of them an opportunity to make a play,” Gruner said with regard to the scoring play. “Thankfully big Joe Clayton [’20] challenged well and Nick was able to put the ball in the back of the net.”
“It was a great feeling scoring my first career goal,” Jackson said. “Especially considering the circumstances: We were 0-2 in the NESCAC and needed a win against Tufts to get back on our feet. I couldn’t have asked for better service from Gruner on the free kick, and Clayton got involved in the box to make some space for me. Our mentality going into the game was much different from our first six games in that it was the first time we were underdogs, so we knew we had to manage the game and play to our strengths. Coming out with a result meant that much more.”
The second half of the Tufts matchup was more of the same. The teams fought a fairly even battle, but a flurry of saves by Katkavich in the final minutes sealed the upset for the visitors. Tufts outshot Wesleyan by a 19-6 margin but only put five shots on net, all of which were stopped by Wesleyan’s veteran goaltender. The Cardinals managed a mere three shots on goal, but it was all they would need. With the shutout, Katkavitch earned his third victory and second shutout of the year.
“Tufts is always a big game,” Katkavich said. “They won the national championship in 2014, so it is easy to get excited for. Going on the road, midweek, is always a challenge, but we handled ourselves professionally. We stuck to our game plan and got a great result.”
“Katkavich has been great all season,” Jackson said of his goalie. “He kept us in the game against Tufts and gave us a chance to win. He is a great leader and I was happy to help reward him with a clean sheet.”
Katkavich also commented on the team’s mentality in the second half of the game.
“We had a distinct game plan heading into the game, and things did not change in the second half after getting our first goal,” he said. “Tufts held possession for large chunks of the game, but I was confident in the defensive shape in front of me. We were positioned well on the field and our work rate was outstanding. Again, I chalk up those saves in the final minutes to good defensive positioning and work rate. Tufts rarely got behind our back line so their chances were manageable from a goal keeper’s perspective.”
The team returns to action on Saturday with a matinee matchup against Hamilton at Jackson Field.
“The number one goal is to win and move to 2-2 in the NESCAC,” Katkavich said. “In order to do that, we must find a game plan in practice, and we must execute the game plan on Saturday. If we play our game and, again, stay tuned in throughout the 90 minutes of the game, we will get a result. Hamilton is a stronger team than in previous years, but we are hoping we can keep our momentum from the Tufts game rolling and take care of business Saturday afternoon.”