Men's Sectional Previews: New England
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By Ryan Harmanis
NEW ENGLAND SECTIONAL
Amherst (Amherst, MA)
Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 23-24
Third Round - Saturday, Nov. 23
Quarterfinals - Sunday, Nov. 24
Sectional Final, 5:00 pm CT
How they reached the Sweet 16
Brandeis: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W3-0 Johnson & Wales (H) | 2nd Rnd: W1-0 Roger Williams (H)
Williams: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W4-0 Elms (H) | 2nd Rnd: W4-1 WNEC (H)
St. Lawrence: Liberty Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W5-1 Thomas (H) | 2nd Rnd: W8-0 Wheaton (Mass) (H)
Amherst: NESCAC Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W3-0 Bridgewater (H) | 2nd Rnd: W5-0 Gordon (H)
2013 Statistical Overview
Brandeis: 16-4-1 (.786) | 2.49 GSA, 0.89 GAA (+1.60) | Avg. D-III OWP: .585 | Last Ten: 6-3-1
Williams: 13-6-0 (.684) | 1.66 GSA, 0.93 GAA (+0.73) | Avg. D-III OWP: .598 | Last Ten: 6-4-0
St. Lawrence: 17-2-2 (.857) | 2.08 GSA, 0.37 GAA (+1.71) | Avg. D-III OWP: .583 | Last Ten: 9-1-0
Amherst: 17-0-2 (.947) | 2.38 GSA, 0.40 GAA (+1.98) | Avg. D-III OWP: .569 | Last Ten: 10-0-0
Brandeis Season Review
Brandeis began the season red-hot, posting seven straight wins that included a victory over tournament team MIT. After rising as high as sixth in the D3soccer.com rankings, the Judges received a rude awakening from Tufts in a 2-0 loss where Brandeis was (statistically, at least) thoroughly outplayed. Brandeis recovered to enter the UAA slate at 9-1, but the brutal nature of the conference took its toll. Perhaps as a testament to its difficult, Brandeis finished fifth in the UAA after losing to the top three teams (#10 Rochester, #11 Carnegie Mellon and Emory) in a nine-day stretch.
However, Brandeis peaked at the right time, posting four straight shutouts to end the season and continuing that defensive dominance by blanking Johnson and Wales (3-0) and Roger Williams (1-0) to open the NCAA tournament. This was a welcome tightening in the back, as the Judges had allowed 19 goals in their first 15 games. Brandeis boasts a relatively balanced attack led by junior Tyler Savonen (12g, 4a) and strongly supported out of the back by senior Ben Applefield (2g, 10a)
Williams Season Review
Williams entered 2013 in a strange position, returning seven starters from a Final Four team but also graduating three All-Americans. This suggested a wealth of talent but also a transition period as underclassmen moved from role players to impact players and team leaders. The result was consistent inconsistency, as the Ephs finished third in the NESCAC. Normally that’s high praise and an NCAA bid, but the NESCAC was down and Williams entered the conference tournament at 9-5 with work left to do. Impressive wins over Middlebury and on the road at Wesleyan sealed passage into the tournament despite a second 1-0 loss to Amherst in the final.
Despite its troubles getting there, Williams spent little time proving it belonged. The Ephs won emphatically over both Elms (4-0) and Western New England (4-1) and enter this weekend with one eye towards a third shot at Amherst. It seems as though leading scorer Matt Muralles (7g, 2a) is finding help at the right time, particularly from Jonathan Westling (5g, 1a) and Chris Conder. Coach Mike Russo struck gold by inserting the pair into the starting lineup, as three goals from Westling and four assists from Conder paced the Ephs’ attack last weekend.
St. Lawrence Season Review
St. Lawrence entered 2013 with high expectations but was humbled immediately in a 4-1 home loss to #4 Stevens. From there, it was a steady rise as the Saints went unbeaten in 13 games to climb as high as #14 in the d3soccer.com rankings. The team’s season-long offensive struggles finally caught up to it with a 1–0 loss to Skidmore, but once again St. Lawrence responded positively. The Saints have won six straight, including back-to-back demolition jobs of Thomas (5-1) and Wheaton (Mass.) 8-0 last weekend. Last Sunday was particularly impressive given the setting (NCAA second round) and the opponent (Wheaton had won 8 straight).
St. Lawrence has held opponents to eight goals all season, led by junior goalkeeper Aaron Costello. While the shutouts (16) speak to team defense, Costello himself has a stellar save percentage of .907 and was voted Defensive Player of the Year in the Liberty League. On the other side, four-year starter and senior captain Andrew Bednarsky (9g, 8a) leads the Saints' in-form attack into Saturday's marquee matchup. The unanimous Liberty League Player of the Year ramped up his offensive output this season with a silky first touch and calm finishing skills, best seen by this spectacular goal in the conference title game (seriously, check out the 1:05 mark).
Amherst Season Review
Amherst has been incredible over the last two seasons: a combined 34-0-5 record, only 11 goals against, two NESCAC regular season and tournament doubles and repeat trips to the Sweet 16. 2012 saw one of the most statistically dominant campaigns ever, as the team never trailed and allowed only three goals before falling in penalties in the Elite Eight. That experience (and disappointment) surely fueled this year’s success, as the Lord Jeffs were one of only three undefeated teams in parity-driven 2013.
Amherst tore through the NESCAC, finishing well clear of the pack in one of the top conferences in the country. The NCAA opening weekend proved no different, with comfortable wins over Bridgewater State (3-0) and Gordon (5-0). The defense, led by sophomore Thomas Bull in goal and defensive stalwarts Ben Norton and Gabriel Wirz, has only allowed eight goals. The offense had the difficult job of replacing 100-point man Spencer Noon, but has coped admirably with a balanced attack. Six different players have at least 10 points, led by Nico Pascual-Leone (6g, 9a), Christopher Martin (8g, 3a) and Greg Singer (7g, 4a).
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 17)
Brandeis: 61-19-4 (.750) overall | NCAA's ('12-'13): 4-1-0, Sweet 16 - '12-'13
Williams: 50-15-9 (.736) overall | NCAA's ('10-'12-'13): 6-2-1, Sweet 16 - '12-'13, Elite 8 - '12, Final Four - '12
St. Lawrence: 64-9-7 (.844) overall | NCAA's ('10-'11-'12-'13): 6-3-0, Sweet 16 - '11
Amherst: 63-4-11 (.878) overall | NCAA's ('10-'11-'12-'13): 8-2-1, Sweet 16 - '10-'11-'12-'13, Elite 8 - '12
These four teams bring a wealth of NCAA experience into the Sectional, including games against one another. Brandeis is making its second-straight Sweet 16 appearance, while St. Lawrence arrives for the second time in three seasons. Amherst (as noted above) is here for the fourth straight season, while Williams was in San Antonio just last year.
Clearly, these teams are no stranger to the NCAA tournament nor its latter stages. It's hard to find an edge for any single team, as they are a combined 24–8–2 in the last four seasons. St. Lawrence is perhaps the least experienced as they are the only team who missed out last year, but Amherst will surely be feeling the pressure to get over that last hurdle and reach the final weekend.
What a tangled web the NCAA committee managed to weave in the New England Sectional. Williams 2012 Final Four run, as fate would have it, ended the season for all three other teams in play this weekend. In succession, the 2012 Ephs eliminated St. Lawrence (2-1, Second Round), Brandeis (1-0, Sweet 16) and Amherst (0-0, Elite Eight). While only one rematch is guaranteed, the potential for a second is certainly intriguing.
In 2012, a tight game saw Brandeis outshoot and out corner Williams yet fall to a second-half goal. The Judges have surely remembered what it felt like to have their season ended by Williams and will be looking to return the favor.
Should Williams and St. Lawrence advance, we would be treated to yet another rematch from a game where Williams was (statistically) outplayed but still managed to eke out a 2-1 overtime victory. St. Lawrence scored in the very first minute, but Williams came back with under 10 minutes remaining to force OT and eventually make it to the Sweet 16.
Finally, if Williams and Amherst survive we would witness perhaps the biggest grudge match imaginable. This would mark the sixth game in two years between the Ephs and the Lord Jeffs, and such familiarity has surely bred contempt. Amherst has gone 3-0-2 against Williams over that span, but the 2012 "loss" in penalties means that all the head-to-head success cannot substitute for Williams' 2012 Final Four appearance. Ultimately, we'll have major questions on our hands: Can Amherst get past Williams when it really matters? Can Williams beat Amherst at all? Or, in an excruciating case of déjà vu, will these teams be forced to head to the penalty spot once again?
Why they will advance to the Final Four
Brandeis: The Judges have faced more top teams throughout the season and (unlike the other three teams) were pushed during the first two rounds of the tournament. Battle-hardened from the grueling UAA schedule, Brandeis’ defense is peaking at the right time and will shut down Williams’ inconsistent offense in payback from 2012. From there, Brandeis rides momentum and the scoring prowess of Savonen past the beat-up survivor of the St. Lawrence-Amherst battle to San Antonio.
Williams: The Ephs are peaking at the right time, firing in eight goals last weekend after only scoring 24 all season. Brandeis has struggled against top-level competition, and Williams will provide a much sterner test than the Tufts squad that handled the Judges earlier this year. In the Elite Eight, the Ephs rely heavily on last year’s experience to down St. Lawrence or else find that the saying “third (or sixth) time’s a charm” holds true to overcome Amherst and return to the Final Four.
St. Lawrence: In perhaps the marquee matchup of the Sweet 16, the Saints’ stingy defense and a healthy dose of Bednarsky make the difference in a tight matchup worthy of San Antonio. Having overcome Amherst on its home field, the Saints’ confidence skyrockets and they overpower Brandeis or shut down Williams’ inconsistent offense to earn the opportunity to add another championship to St. Lawrence lore.
Amherst: The numbers are on Amherst’s side: two straight undefeated seasons, a stingy defense and a strong offense; probability itself would say that four straight Sweet 16s should result in at least one Final Four appearance. The Lord Jeffs will be the strongest team St. Lawrence has seen since opening day, and a similar result ensues as Amherst returns to the Elite Eight. Once there, the Lord Jeffs fly past Brandeis or flip the script from 2012 to deliver a final knockout blow to Williams and give the Lord Jeffs’ seniors a much-deserved trip to San Antonio.
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