Tufts (13-1-2, 7-1-2) vs. Hamilton (4-5-1, 8-6-2), 11:00 AM, Medford, MA
Tufts has absolutely steamrolled through the NESCAC this season, and with a merciless 3-0 victory over Bates last week, the Jumbos showed no signs of nerves when it comes to playing championship soccer. Superb play from last Saturday’s goal scorers Conor Coleman ’18, Dexter Eichorst ’18, and Sterling Weatherbie ’19 proved that their defensive players can get it done all over the pitch. Tufts’ defense is as talented a group of players as you’ll see on a NESCAC field together. Responsible for all three goals last weekend, and having still conceded only one goal this season, it’s hard to draw up a feasible scenario in which their squad could actually lose, not just this game, but any game.
HOWEVER, do not sleep on the Hamilton College Continentals. Hamilton lost narrowly to Tufts 1-0 during the regular season, and is coming off their best game in recent memory. After falling behind 2-0 last week to the defending champion Amherst Mammoths, the Continentals came storming back with 4 unanswered goals in the second half. Aidan Wood ’20 led the charge with a second half hat trick, truly the stuff of legends, and if he’s in top form again this weekend, Hamilton could pull off the unthinkable. Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella, but even a Hamilton squad in top form may not be enough to put an end to Tufts’ incomprehensible season.
Prediction: Tufts 3- Hamilton 2 (Penalties)
Bowdoin (10-3-3, 6-2-2) vs. Middlebury (11-5-0, 5-5-0), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA
Middlebury (11-5), a team that does not believe in ties, is coming off a huge overtime win against perennial powerhouse Connecticut College. Everybody loves a game that ends in dramatic fashion, and that’s exactly what Brandon Reid ’21 provided us with last week, when he connected on a pass from a man familiar with the score sheet himself, Drew Goulart ’20 in the 95th minute of play. Not to be outdone, Bowdoin (10-3-3) pulled out a win in penalties last week, as Stevie Van Siclen ’18 showed he just may be the best keeper on the planet, saving multiple penalties in the shootout.
When the Panthers and the Polar Bears met earlier this season, Moctar Niang ’19 slotted a pair of goals for the Bears, en route to a 3-1 victory. Bowdoin won’t have it as easy in this match though, as they face a Middlebury squad that’s won 6 of its last 8 matches. It’s worth noting that every single one of these victories has been a 1-0 result, meaning that if the Panthers can keep the Bears off the board early, they have what it takes to sweat out a low scoring affair. If Niang and company catch the Panthers on their heals though, they could run away with the one, just as they did in late September. One more thing, if you’re looking for an X-factor, Bowdoin’s Drake Byrd ’21 would be happy to oblige. The super-sub has found the score sheet just twice this year, both for 1-0 victories against conference opponents. Don’t be surprised if he’s got his footprints all over this one, too.
Time for the worthy to shine and the hesitant to stumble. We are now down to eight of the finest squads in the country to battle it out for ‘Cac supremacy, and there will be no cakewalks for any team from here on out (looking at you, Tufts). This quarterfinal round presents some appealing and somewhat dangerous matchups, producing an element of added pressure that so often cripples a team’s fate in playoff soccer.
Williams (6) at Bowdoin (3), 12:30 PM
Bowdoin opens up their playoffs at home against a solid Williams team. In their first game matching up in September, the Polar Bears were able to secure a win with a late goal in the second half at home; that being said, these two teams match up very closely together. Despite Bowdoin being higher ranked in the playoff seedings, these two squads have had eerily similar seasons from a statistical point of view. They each have scored 18 goals while Bowdoin has conceded 8 compared to Williams’ 9. Despite the substance of their overall campaigns being almost identical, Bowdoin has managed to score almost two goals for every goal conceded in conference, while Williams scored one for every one against in NESCAC play. What I can garner from this is that Bowdoin has, to this point in the season, performed better against the higher quality teams compared to their Ephs opponent.
Bowdoin will have to keep relying on their stalwart defense, led by recent conference player of the week and goalkeeper Stevie Van Siclen ’18. The senior keeper has continued to be a reliable force in the net and will look to get a clean sheet in front of his home crowd. Offensively, senior Ethan Ellsworth ’18 will attempt to generate the offense for the Polar Bears, leading the team in points in the regular season.
The Ephs need to find a way to create some chances on Saturday, looking to senior Mark Sisco-Tomoleo ’18 and sophomore Bobby Fabricant ’20 to open up the play for this Williams side. In order for the Ephs to truly take advantage of Bowdoin in hostile Brunswick territory, they must take the game to the Polar Bears and pounce on them early.
Prediction: Williams 1 – Bowdoin 2
Hamilton (7) at Amherst (2), 1:00 PM
The defending conference champion Mammoths will seek to open up their title defense in the opening round of the playoffs this upcoming Saturday. Up to this point in the season, Amherst has put on an offensive display, scoring 31 goals in their 15 games played. What they will need to be cautious of is their sometimes vulnerable defense, as they were only fifth in fewest goals allowed in the conference. On the other side, the Continentals come into this game having let up the ninth fewest goals per game, meaning that if Amherst is executing their plays, the Mammoths could easily take advantage of the at-times frail Hamilton defense. In their opening matchup, and to the surprise of many, the Continentals were able to squeak out a tie against the Amherst squad. However, I bet the Mammoths will be looking to get their revenge, especially on their home turf.
For Amherst, they will need to look to standout freshman Sebastian Derby ’21, who leads the team in goals and overall points. This matchup is a good chance for Derby to get a taste of his first collegiate playoff run.
On the other side, Hamilton will call on sophomore Aidan Wood ’20 to direct this offense. If the Continentals want to make a statement in these playoffs, knocking off the defending champs would be a good start.
Prediction: Hamilton 0 – Amherst 2
Middlebury (5) at Connecticut College (4), 2:00 PM
The #4 and #5 seeds square off in this opening round of the playoffs in New London this upcoming Saturday. The Camels will look to prove why they are one of the most dominant forces in the conference, and according to their regular season stats, they are statistical stars. Conn lets in an average of about 1 goal every 2 games, while scoring about 2 times for every single game played; they are also tied for second in the conference in goals scored. I see an issue for the Panthers in this matchup, seeing as they usually give up as many goals as they score, which is definitely not a recipe for success entering the playoffs with these powerful opposing teams. In their meeting during the regular season, Conn beat the Panthers 2-1 in Vermont. If they were able to beat Middlebury away in their NESCAC opener, I have no reason to doubt that they will bring an even fiercer gameplay to the Panthers on their home field in front of a playoff crowd.
For Conn, Ben Manoogian ’19 will look to continue his exceptional play, with his team-leading 17 points. Defensively, the Camels stick freshman A.J. Marcucci ’21 between the posts, as he ranks third in the conference in saves.
As for Middlebury, the key to their offense will be sophomore Drew Goulart ’20, who leads the team in both assists (3) and goals (4). He will need to step up and try to score in front of a raucous Camel crowd.
Score Prediction: Middlebury 0 – Conn. College 2
Bates (8) at Tufts (1), 2:30 PM
The last matchup we have for you this weekend is between top-seeded Tufts and eighth-seeded Bates. Looking at the numbers, Tufts has been unstoppable this year. They have let up 1 goal the whole season, and are also leading the conference in goals per game. Their only hiccup this season came against a stingy Amherst squad, but they stepped on the throttle only harder for the second half of the season. For Bates, I think they are just enjoying the ride up to this point. They had an unbelievable win in double OT (scoring with less than 30 seconds left) against Colby to squeak into the playoffs. Hopefully they can ride that excitement into the quarterfinals and try to put up a fight against this extremely talented Jumbos squad. In their matchup during the regular season, Bates managed to put up a good fight, but lost 1-0 on their home field.
For Tufts, it is hard to name just one player that will be the key to their success. They have senior Dexter Eichhorst ’18, sophomore Gavin Tasker ’20, and senior keeper Bruce Johnson ’18, who has yet to let in a goal all season.
As for the Bates squad, they have the conference leader in points in Nate Merchant ’21, and also defensive lockdown stud Morgan Dewdney ’19. Hopefully these two can will this Bobcats team to a strong effort against this Tufts powerhouse.
Fall is here, and along with the leaves changing color and pumpkin-flavored everything, it’s about that time where we can start separating the men from the boys in the world of NESCAC Men’s Soccer. With the majority of conference play in the books, these next couple weeks down the stretch are going to be fun to watch, as the battle for the top of the table in the NESCAC is wide-open. Let’s take a peak of what we have to look forward to this weekend.
Trinity @ Middlebury
The Bantams are going to give the Panthers everything they have this weekend. That will mean Cody Savonen ’18 playing at his highest level, as he has all season. Savonen has 8 goals in 12 games, and just pulled ahead of Conn.’s Ben Manoogian in the golden boot race. Anchored by the versatile play of defender Alex Steel ’19, who leads the team in assists, Trinity could be due for a big win after a dropping a heartbreaker last week in OT to Bowdoin. For Middlebury, Drew Goulart ‘20 will supply the fire up top, as he’s tallied a team-high 3 goals and 2 assists. Goulart’s efforts will be aided by Jed Sass ’18, Daniel O’Grady ’19, and Ben Potter ’20. They’ve each chipped in a pair of goals this season, and will need to do more of the same on Saturday if Middlebury wants to show they belong in the top tier of the league.
Prediction: Middlebury 2 – Trinity 3
Tufts @ Bates
There’s no real reason to overthink this one here. Tufts stands at the top of the table, is a top ten team in the country, and has surrendered just one goal this season. If that doesn’t convince you, they are coming off of a 10-0 mid-week result (you read that correctly) against a 5-5-1 Mt. St. Vincent squad. Tufts seems to subscribe to the “Do Your Job” approach, as their 27 goals this season have come from 16 different players. They even platoon the goalkeeping duties, starting both Conner Meith ’19 and Bruce Johnson ’18 in conference games, a luxury of having two very talented keepers. The Bobcats will look towards Nate Merchant ’18 to continue his goal scoring ways, and with box-to-box playmaker Morgan Dewdney ’19 securing the midfield, the Bobcats could give the Jumbos some fits.
Prediction: Tufts 3 – Bates 1
Hamilton @ Bowdoin
The Continentals have pieced together a fair season overall, but 4 NESCAC losses is just simply too many. If they’re looking to throw a wrench into Bowdoin’s title hopes, forwards Jefri Schmidt ’20 and Aidan Wood ’20 will need to continue their goal scoring ways; the sophomore duo has accounted for 7 goals (Wood-4, Schmidt-3). If Hamilton can get on the board early, perhaps they’ll stand a chance to shock the Polar Bears, but that’s easier said than done. Bowdoin’s well-rounded team features leading goal-getter Ethan Ellsworth ’18, along with Moctar Niang ’19, who has continued to be the backbone of this strong Polar Bear squad. Wonderboy C.J. Masterson ‘19 has been in sensational form for the Polar Bears, having buried 3 goals in his last 4 games, enough to tie him for the team-lead with Ellsworth. Matty McColl ’19 has proven he’s a bona-fide star in this league after receiving all-conference honors as a sophomore last year, and with Sam Ward ’18 shoring up things up all over the pitch for Bowdoin, it’s hard to imagine Hamilton finding its way into the Polar Bears’ net.
Prediction: Hamilton 1 – Bowdoin 2
Amherst @ Colby
Amherst is who we thought they were. They reminded us all why they are the defending champions with a statement 1-0 result versus Tufts two weekends ago, and they still have a lot of soccer to play. Jimmy McMillian ‘20 has burst onto the scene for the Mammoths, with decisive goals against both Williams and Tufts to his name. Just another face in Amherst’s potent offense, McMillian is joined by Fikayo Ajayi ’19, Weller Hlinomaz ‘18, and even defender Cutler Coleman ’20, who have all slotted a pair of goals for the Mammoth’s this season, and figure to be a handful for Colby. Colby’s offense has shown a lot of life lately, in large part because of the dynamic wing play from pace-machine Kyle Douglas ‘19 and Jeff Rosenberg ’19. Pairing their explosiveness with a solid defense anchored by top guy Grady Jendzejec ’19, leading goal scorer Cam Clouse ’19, and goalkeeper Avery Gibson ’20, makes Colby a formidable opponent for the Mammoths. Gibson has been a brick wall for the Mules, surrendering just four goals this season. It’s easy to sleep on the Mules against a team like Amherst, but may not be wise
Prediction: Amherst 2 – Colby 1 (2OT)
Williams @ Wesleyan
Williams has lost just one game this season, but their knack for tying has
them firmly marooned in the middle of the table. Saturday’s result in Middletown needs to bring Williams all three points, and should, as Tobias Muellers ’18 and his cronies stick to their game plan and keep the Cardinals out of Bobby Schneiderman’s ’18 net. It’s no secret that the Eph’s defense is their strength, having conceded just 4 goals this year. It’s also safe to bank on Wesleyan’s defense showing up, lead by Teddy Lyons ’19, but if the Cardinals are going to pull this one out, Komar Martinez-Paiz ’19 will need to be in top form. Wesleyan’s gotten a lot of contributions from a lot of guys, but Martinez-Paiz has the talent to bring this team out of the trenches.