Women's Sectional Previews: Atlantic
|Other Sectional Previews: MIDWEST | AMERICAN | NORTHEAST|
By D3soccer.com Contributor
TCNJ (Trenton, NJ)
Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 18-19
Third Round - Saturday
Quarterfinals - Sunday
Sectional Final, 1:00 pm ET
How they reached the Sweet 16
2017 Statistical Overview
TCNJ Season Review
At 20-0-0 TCNJ (officially The College of New Jersey) is one of two women’s teams with unblemished records remaining in the tournament. American Sectional competitor Hardin-Simmons, one win better at 21-0-0, is the other. The Lions were ranked No. 9 in our first poll of the season, ascended to the No. 2 spot by Week 5 and reached the pinnacle in the final regular season poll (Week 10). They arrived at the top on the strength of an elite attack (3.42 GSA) combined with the second-ranked team defense in the nation (.15 GAA).
The Lions stout defense opened the season with twelve straight shutouts before conceding two (on a total of three shots) in a 3-2 victory over Montclair State. After a regular season ending 2-1 win at Rowan, they have started another shutout streak going through the NJAC tournament and last weekend’s NCAA contests unbreached. With a mere three goals conceded all season, the Lions are tied at the top of Division III with possible sectional opponent Messiah. The stingy defense which allows only 3.5 shots per game is superbly backstopped by NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year, Nicole DiPasquale. But TCNJ is not a one trick pony. Their goal differential trails only offensive machine Hardin-Simmons and is essentially the same as Chicago. Their 69 goals and 3.42 GSA are 13th and 16th respectively in the nation. NJAC Offensive Player of the Year, forward Christine Levering leads the attack with 15 goals and 5 assists, but she is not alone as ten other Lions have hit the back of the net three or more times.
In his 28th season, Coach Joe Russo has spent his entire career at TCNJ while sporting a record through last weekend of 502-62-40 (.864). He is second among Division III women’s soccer coaches in all-time wins and third in winning pct. among active coaches with at least five seasons on the job.
Lynchburg Season Review
This is Lynchburg’s eighteenth NCAA Tournament appearance and their sixth visit to the Sweet 16. The Hornets won the national championship in 2014. No. 15 Lynchburg (20-3-0) made their way to this year’s Sweet 16 after delivering the only true upset during the opening weekend of the women’s tournament when they bested previously undefeated No. 4 Christopher Newport 2-1 in the second round on the Captain’s home field. They started the season impressively at 6-0-0 and were ranked No. 8 in the initial (Week 2) poll. Two weeks later, they dropped to the fifteenth spot after what at the time appeared to be a somewhat surprising, at least as our pollsters saw it, loss to Virginia Wesleyan who went on to a successful season (ODAC-best 9-1-0 mark, 14-6-1 overall record entering the tournament as an at-large selection, first round win). The Hornets only other defeats were a 0-1 defensive struggle (2–3 shots) at Sweet 16 participant No. 9 Carnegie Mellon and a second consecutive 0-1 scoreline (despite a 21-6 shot advantage) three days later in a home contest with Bridgewater (Va.).
Offensively, the Hornets have delivered 56 goals, 36th in the nation. They have surrendered 16 goals in 23 contests, a .69 GAA which ranks 46th. With 19 of their 23 contests in 2017 decided by 2 goals or less the Lynchburg women have become accustomed to the closely contested matches found in the later stages of the tournament. ODAC all-conference forward Caitlin Mertens has accounted for an outstanding seven game winners, fourth nationally. She leads the Hornet attack with a 14 goals(and 3 assists), but defenses cannot focus solely on her as forward Kennedy Jakubek (11g, 7a) is a second major threat. Anchoring the defense is two time ODAC Conference Player of Year, center back Emily Maxwell. Maxwell has started all 95 games during in her four-year career at Lynchburg. Over that span the Hornet defense has consistently been one of the most effective in Division III women’s soccer.
Pacing the Hornet sideline is Coach Todd Olsen, a stalwart of the Division III women’s soccer coaching community. His 418 wins place him sixth all-time while his career.795 win percentage is seventh among active Division III women’s coaches with five or more seasons. Since his arrival, the Hornets have posted 20 winning campaigns and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 15 of the past 18 seasons. During his 24 seasons at the helm, Coach Olsen has built an impressive NCAA tournament CV with seven Sweet 16’s, two Elite 8’s (’04, ’08), a Final Four (’09) and culminating with a National Championship in 2014.
Messiah Season Review
Hard to believe but at 16-2-3 (.833), the Messiah women are having their worst season record-wise (tied with identical results in 2003) of the Scott Frey era. (Inquiring minds want to know if that is why Christan Shirk has been laying low this season!) Of course, this is not a slam but recognition of the program’s incredible success over the long haul which includes the senior class’s back to back 22-0-3 marks in 2014-15 and 2015-16. This season the Falcons ran the gauntlet of Division III women’s soccer’s fifth most difficult schedule and, of the remaining Sweet 16 members, are only behind Chicago and Washington U. of the brutal UAA. On the year. Messiah are 6-2-2 against 2017 tourney participants and 1-1-1 against other Sweet 16 teams.
The Falcons entered the tournament in D3soccer.com’s No. 10 slot after having hovered around that neighborhood for most of the season. They powered their way through the MAC Commonwealth Conference on their way to a 17th consecutive unbeaten regular season conference mark but needed an at-large berth after a 0-1 double overtime upset loss to Arcadia. Their success has relied on a nearly impenetrable defense which has only conceded three goals for a nationally top ranked 0.14 GAA. That unit is led by two time Commonwealth Defensive Player of the Year DJ Cole. On the rare occasion the back line allows a shot on goal, conference Rookie of the Year, goalkeeper Lydia Ewing cleans threats up at a save percentage of 0.857. Offensively, while not as prolific as the past few seasons, the Falcons are netting roughly 2.5 goals per game against quality opposition. Forward Brooke Firestone leads the attack with 9 goals (including 4 game winners) and 12 assists but meaningful contributors are spread widely through the roster.
In the coaches box, Coach Frey has a career 0.921 winning percentage, first all-time in Division III women’s soccer and first in all NCAA soccer, 0.014 pts ahead of legendary Anson Dorrance—although Coach Frey’s 379 career victories trails Coach Dorrance’s 810 slightly.
MIT Season Review
Coming off their best year in program history in 2016 (17-6-1), MIT had a great start to the season reeling off five straight wins (25 GF, 6 GA). This performance garnered great respect from our panel when the Engineers appeared at No 10 in our inaugural 2017 poll—impressive indeed, especially since it was the Engineers first ever appearance. They moved up and down a spot or two during the season and entered the tournament ranked No. 11. Their season opening win streak extended to twelve until a 0-1 road defeat at the feet of perennial powerhouse No. 6 Williams. The only other blemish was a 1-1 in-conference draw with WPI. They have now topped the well regarded NEWMAC six consecutive years.
MIT’s hugely successful season (20-1-1) is built on impressive performances on both sides of the halfway line. Their 2.72 per game goal differential is fourth best in the Sweet 16 field. They feature one of the most prolific offenses in Division III, netting 77 goals for a 3.43 rate; marks standing respectively 8th and 13th in the nation. This year’s Engineers have crushed the program’s records for goals (77), assists (62) and points (216). Olivia Struckman, two time NEWMAC Athlete of the Year is the top scorer with 14 goals. At the other end of the pitch, while not elite, their .71 GAA is very respectable. Hailey Nichols, NEWMAC Defensive Athlete of the Year anchors this is impressively consistent defense which has produced nine shutouts and yielded only a single goal in each of their other matches. Combine their high powered offense with this efficient defense and you have a formidable opponent that can match up well with any remaining team in the tournament.
Looking around the pitch this weekend, Coach Desmarais may feel he should ask for autographs, but he looks to be well on his way to building a consistent national power in Cambridge. Taking over a program that had essentially a .500 win percentage in its first eleven years, he bumped that up slightly to 19-15-4 (.553) over his first two seasons. He has now led the Engineers to two consecutive all-time best seasons combining for an outstanding 37-7-2 (.932). With a career record of 116-44-26, Desmarais is the program's all-time leader in wins and winning percentage (.694) and has the most postseason victories with ten.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 15)
The teams of this sectional arrive in Ewing, NJ with a long and storied NCAA tournament history. Together Messiah, TCNJ and Lynchburg hold nine of the twenty-nine NCAA Division III National Championships. In addition the Falcons and the Lions were each runner-up four times. With MIT in the mix this sectional has a combined 68 tournament appearances. Not only do they get a ticket to the dance, as a group they achieve consistent success reaching at least the Sweet 16 a mind boggling 47 times. With Messiah’s record 63 wins along with TCNJ’s second highest total of 58, this sectional accounts for 152 all-time tournament wins. The seniors of the Falcons, Lions and Hornets were each part of Elite 8 squads as freshmen. Additionally, the Messiah women reached the Final Four in both 2015 and 2016. While MIT cannot boast of that level of success, Coach Desmarais led his 2012 team to the Sweet 16 and the Engineers have earned their way into the tournament six of the last seven seasons.
Players to Watch
TCNJ: #8 F Christine Levering (Sr.) – 15g, 5a, 6GWG (NJAC 2x OPOY, 3x 1st Team) | #10 F Elizabeth Thoresen (Sr.) – 7g, 3a, 3GWG (3x NJAC 1st Team) | #2 M Jessica Goldman (Sr.) – 5g, 9a 2GWG (NJAC 2x MOY, 2x 1st Team) | #9 D Kelly Weiczerzak (Sr.) – (2x NJAC 1st Team) | #98 GK Nicole DiPasquale (So.) – 0.17 GAA, 0.889 SvPct (NJAC GKOY, 1st Team)
Lynchburg: #3 D Emily Maxwell (Sr.) – (ODAC 2x POY, 4x 1st Team) | #11 F Caitlin Mertens (Jr.) – 14g, 3a 7GWG (ODAC 2x 1st Team) | #16 M Kara Rombrough (Jr.) – (ODAC 1st Team)
Messiah: #3 D DJ Cole (Jr.) – (MAC 2x DPOY, 2x 1st Team) | #0 GK Lydia Ewing (Fr.) – 0.16 GAA, 0.857 SvPct (MACC ROY, 1st Team) | #25 F Brook Firestone (So.) – 9g, 12a, 4GWG (MACC 1st Team) | #23 D Barb Foster (So.) – (MACC 1st Team) | #22 M Sunny Gelnovatch (So.) – 7g, 5a, 3GWG (2x MACC 1st Team, 2016 ROY)
MIT: #5 F Olivia Struckman (Sr.) – 14g, 3a, 4GWG (2x NEWMAC Ath.OY, 4x 1st Team) | #13 D Hailey Nichols (Jr.) – 5g, 3a, 4GWG (NEWMAC Def.Ath.OY, 1st Team) | #2 F Amy Apostol (Jr.) – 9g, 5a, 4GWG (NEWMAC 1st Team) | #11 M Emily Berzolla (So.) – 7g, 16a, 2GWG (2x NEWMAC 1st Team) | #14 Jacqueline Simmons (Sr.) – (NEWMAC 1st Team)
The upcoming Sweet 16 Messiah / MIT match-up is the first regular season or tournament contest between any of the four sectional participants since Lynchburg eliminated Messiah on kicks in a 2014 Elite 8 meeting. Prior to that over the past ten years, Messiah downed MIT 5-0 in the 2012 Sweet 16, prevailed 4-0 over Lynchburg in a 2010 regular season contest and defeated TCNJ 1-0 in the 2008 Final Four. Also in 2012, MIT got past TCNJ 1-0 (2OT) in the second round for their first Sweet 16 appearance. Lastly and not surprisingly given their lengthy runs of success, Messiah and TCNJ have met in the tournament seven times with the Falcons on top at the moment at 4-3-0.
Why they will advance to the Final Four
TCNJ: The Lions are the No. 1 ranked team and have all the numbers to back up that position. They drop Lynchburg who are 8-2-0 in their last ten with seven of the wins being one-goal squeakers. Sunday is a contest between two teams who have allowed six goals in total over the season. Of course it’s 0-0 after two overtime periods and . . .
Lynchburg: Building on momentum gained, confidence built and lessons learned from last weekend’s upset of No. 4 Christopher Newport the Hornets pull off another upset, greatly disappointing the home crowd. On a massive roll now, the Lynchburg women are ready to take down another giant or burst Cinderella’s bubble.
Messiah: Defense wins championships. The Falcons prevail again over MIT in the Sweet 16 knocking them out, but by a much closer margin than in 2012 due to the contributions of the Engineer defense and in part to Messiah’s relative lack of scoring punch this year. In the quarterfinal, after their fifth 0-0 double overtime contest of the season, the Falcon seniors break their NCAA penalty kick hex and pack their bags for Greensboro
MIT: While at 20-1-1, MIT casting as Cinderella may seem a stretch, but consider the historic accomplishments and Division III women’s soccer traditions of the other teams in this sectional. An overconfident Messiah group thinks the same way and falls 0-1 on an early breakaway goal. The glass slipper fits and riding an emotional wave, the Engineers get by Saturday’s depleted double overtime PK shootout winner. Ladies, your coach awaits.
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