Men's Sectional Previews: East
|Other Sectional Previews: WEST | GREAT LAKES | NORTHEAST|
Rochester (Rochester, NY)
Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 17-18
NOTE: Due to snow this sectional has been moved from Messiah to Rochester
Third Round - Saturday
Quarterfinals - Sunday
Sectional Final, 1:00 pm ET
How they reached the Sweet 16
2018 Statistical Overview
Messiah Season Review
Messiah is the defending champion for the first time in four seasons, but the perception of invincibility that grew along the way to ten national titles in fourteen years was largely dismantled when Messiah failed to even make the 2015 edition of the competition on the heels of an Elite 8 loss in 2014. Even last year’s championship—a tribute to the Falcons finding their best form of the season in Sectionals and the Final Four after questionable form in the weeks prior—doesn’t change the fact that Messiah, while still highly regarded and respected, isn’t the feared juggernaut they once were. And with the graduation of several significant contributors to their success, it was hard to know what to expect of the Falcons in 2018.
Messiah opened the new season with a come-from-behind 2-2 draw against visiting Cortland State before senior forward Nick West went on a historic goal-scoring run—24 goals scored in 15 consecutive games—to carry the Falcons to an unbeaten 15-0-3 mark heading into the post-season. Along the way, the Falcons handed Montclair State their lone loss, a 5-1 humbling on the Red Hawks’ home turf. Conversely, it took two West goals in the closing minutes to salvage a mid-season tie at Johns Hopkins. An overtime win at Stevenson gave head coach Brad McCarty his 200th win, becoming the quickest (224 games) to the milestone in NCAA men’s soccer history, seven games faster than his predecessor Dave Brandt. The lack of consistent, reliable scoring options beyond West was a growing concern as the post-season neared, and the injury bug that began in the off-season continued to bite the Falcons, not least the back line that ended up relying on a lot of young, inexperienced players throughout the campaign. On the positive side, freshman Luke Groothoff has proven to be one of the team’s most skillful and influential players from opening day whether used in central defense or center midfield.
After only five shutouts in their first thirteen games, the defense, though still in flux, has now blanked their last eight opponents to improve their goals against to a good, but not stellar, 0.51 average. The timing was good as West’s goals dried up entering the conference playoffs, and the Falcons would claim the Commonwealth’s automatic berth with a narrow 1-0 defeat of Stevenson and a championship-clinching penalty shootout win after a scoreless tie with nemesis Lycoming. The concerns about where the goals would come from if West couldn’t deliver persisted when the score against NCAA First Round opponent Baruch remained 0-0 through 40 minutes, but seven different players got their name in the stat book in a 5-0 victory to set up a rematch with Johns Hopkins who survived a penalty kick shootout against Washington and Lee in one of the most competitive First Round match-ups. In a cagey affair with Hopkins controlling play more than the Falcons are accustomed and holding them to a paltry seven shots, the difference was two Nick West goals—the first an awkward header in the goal mouth, the second a brilliant showcase of the striker’s quality and composure.
Cortland State Season Review
2017 marked the second straight season and third in four years that Cortland State made the NCAA Tournament under head coach Steve Axtell who took over in 2012 after three straight losing seasons—a program first—produced just 14 total wins and a sub-.400 winning pct. With nine starters back from the squad that reached the SUNYAC final and NCAA Second Round, in both cases letting second half leads slip away, the expectations were high for this year’s Red Dragons. And they wasted no time pronouncing their intent to be among the national title contenders when they scored in the fourth and 24th minutes of their opener at defending champion Messiah before settling for a 2-2 tie.
Cortland’s non-conference schedule also included three formidable Liberty League opponents. In the 90th all-time meeting with Ithaca, their late second half and overtime push went unrewarded in a scoreless draw that spoke more to Ithaca’s resurgence than to Cortland’s credentials. Then in a Top 25 clash of yet-undefeated teams, Cortland allowed their 2-0 advantage over host St. Lawrence to be canceled in the final 15 minutes before junior midfielder Jake Keller’s game-winning free kick goal in extra time. Finally, in a game in which the Dragons clearly were not at their best, they still defeated Hobart on a 75th minute tally by Keller before starting conference play. An early 2-0 victory over an Oneonta State side not at their typical level this year made Cortland the SUNYAC favorites, but the very next day came the low point of the Dragons’ season when they conceded five goals to a vastly improved New Paltz team after a red card expulsion just six minutes into the contest. They still claimed the SUNYAC #1 seed without suffering another set-back though it took overtime to claim victory at Brockport after letting a 2-goal lead evaporate—yet again—in the final 10 minutes.
The SUNYAC tournament did not provide the Dragons any momentum heading into the NCAA tournament. The semifinal against Oneonta, whose season was on the line, was decided from the penalty stripe after Cortland could not take advantage of 20 minutes of overtime against 10 men after coughing up a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining. Then, with Brockport playing for their lives in the final, a 15-6 shot advantage for the Dragons meant little in a 2-0 loss. The expected Pool C at-large berth was forthcoming, as was the less-certain hosting privilege for a regional pod that included a potential Second Round tangle with Williams. However, after Elizabethtown upset the NESCAC side, Cortland cruised to the Sweet 16 with 3-1 (Newbury) and 5-2 wins, with Keller scoring twice in each contest to pace the Dragons alongside dynamic senior forward Migell Ormsby who was named SUNYAC Offensive Player of the Year on the eve of the tournament. It’s Cortland’s third Sweet 16 in five years and sets up a rematch with Messiah—not just from this year’s opener but also the 2014 Sweet 16.
Rochester Season Review
Matching its best-ever NCAA finish last year, Rochester’s surprise run to the Elite 8 took many by surprise (the other Elite 8 appearance coming in 2009). The Yellowjackets saw off Connecticut College in the First Round and Oneonta State in the Second Round—goalkeeper Redd Brown saving a penalty kick in the final minute to preserve the 2-1 scoreline—and then rallied past Amherst for a 2-1 win in the Sweet 16, before finally meeting its match in Messiah in a 2-0 Elite 8 loss.
This year, despite losing All-American Geoffrey Rouin who seemingly came out of nowhere—he had three goals in his first three seasons—to score 14 goals last year, Rochester has put together yet another solid campaign, largely on the back of senior Bryce Ikeda, whose team-leading seven goals and six assists earned him—along with teammate Lucas Loecher—All-UAA 1st Team honors. The Yellowjackets started off the year with a thrilling double-overtime victory over RPI, as Josh Cooley scored a winner with less than a minute remaining in the second extra session. That set the tone for a successful September, which saw Rochester win seven in a row to start the year, including wins over defending Liberty League champion Hobart, local rival RIT, and 2017 NCAA participant Buffalo State.
Two-time defending UAA Champion Chicago brought Rochester back down to earth in its first UAA contest of the year, but the Yellowjackets weren't deterred, rallying from deficits in conference contests to get a key draw against Washington U. and an important win against Brandeis, in overtime, before prevailing in yet another double-overtime thriller, this time 1-0 at NYU. A road win at defending CCC champion Endicott kept the good times rolling before Rochester suffered its first home loss of the year against Case Western, a 3-2 overtime setback. The Yellowjackets rebounded with a home win versus Carnegie Mellon and a draw versus Emory, putting Rochester joint-third in the UAA with Washington U. and earning Chris Apple's team an NCAA at-large selection and a First and Second Round pod at home. 2-0 wins against Mount St. Mary and Brockport State put Rochester in its second Sweet 16 at Messiah in as many years. (Editor’s Note: the sectional has been moved to Rochester)
Eastern Season Review
Last year, in Eastern's first season under the tutelage of former Messiah standout Jeremy Payne, the Eagles put together a solid regular season campaign, going 12-4-1. Yet while they closed out the regular season with a 1-0 win over DeSales, they were unable to repeat the feat against the same opponent a week later in the MAC Freedom championship, falling on PKs after a 1-1 draw in which the 10-man Eagles scored an equalizer in the final minute of regulation. It broke their streak of two straight Freedom Championships and NCAA appearances.
This year, the Eagles would rectify last season's premature ending. After starting 2-2-0, including two overtime losses in as many days to William Paterson and NESCAC side Wesleyan, the Eagles rolled through the rest of the regular season, winning 13 out of 14, including a home scalp of Centennial side and recent Mid-Atlantic powerhouse Franklin & Marshall. In the MAC Freedom tournament, last season's runner-up wouldn't be denied, registering three-goal victories over Misericordia (5-2) and King's (3-0). One might have thought that Eastern was simply happy to be in the tournament, but the Eagles aren’t done yet. After a penalty shootout victory over Mary Washington, the Eagles had to face F&M again, only this time on the Diplomats' home patch. Instead of wilting, Eastern answered the call, as it made a ninth-minute goal from Sam Sutherland stand up for the 1-0 victory. Looking at the statistics, the Eagles' senior leadership certainly shows through—Jacob Myers has registered a team-leading nine goals while Colin Furlong's 13 assists put him seventh in the nation as seniors have the top three—and four of the top six—point totals on the team.
Eastern’s trip to the Sweet 16 will be a homecoming of sorts for its head coach and two members of his staff: the Eagles will travel to Messiah to play on Shoemaker Field* which Payne and two assistants called home for four successful years as players. However, any suggestions that Payne and his Eagles are simply happy to be there are sorely mistaken: with a coach who has been there and done that—Payne is a two-time national champion whose nine career tournament goals include the double-overtime winner in the 2013 title game—it’s certain that he’ll be using his experience in these situations to set his team up for success. And having already knocked off a perennial Mid-Atlantic power on its home field last weekend, the Eagles will possess the belief and hunger for more. (* Editor’s Note: the sectional has been moved to Rochester)
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 11)
Players to Watch
Messiah: #11 F Nick West (Sr.) – 26g, 6a, 8gwg (Com'nw'lth OffPOY) | #5 D/M Luke Groothoff (Fr.) – 5g, 2gwg | #6 M Samuel Ruiz Plaza (Sr.) – 4g, 1a (Com'nw'lth 1st Team) | #21 M Justin Brautigam (Sr.) – 5g, 2a (Com'nw'lth 1st Team)
Cortland State: #11 F Migell Ormsby (Sr.) – 12g, 3a, 6gwg (SUNYAC OffPOY) | #7 M Jake Keller (Jr.) – 18g, 5a, 6gwg (SUNYAC 1st Team) | #4 M Miguel Tunas (Jr.) – 2g 12a (SUNYAC 1st Team) | #19 D Blake Aronson – 2g, 1a, 1gwg (SUNYAC 1st Team)
Rochester: #4 M Bryce Ikeda (Sr.) – 7g, 6a, 4gwg (UAA 1st Team) | #5 D Lucas Loecher (Sr.) – (UAA 1st Team) | #8 F Aidan Miller (Jr.) – 5g, 1a, 2gwg (UAA 2nd Team) | #32 M Zach Lawlor (Jr.) – 2g, 1a (UAA 2nd Team)
Eastern: #30 D Jacob Myers (Sr.) – 9g, 1a, 4gwg (Freedom DefPOY) | #4 M Colin Furlong (Sr.) – 4g, 13a, 1gwg (Freedom 1st Team) | #7 M/F Cade Harmon (Sr.) – 7g, 3a, 3gwg (Freedom 1st Team) | #6 M Liam Harmon (So.) – 2g, 2a (Freedom 1st Team)
As already mentioned, Cortland and Messiah tangled in their season opener, but they also met in the Sweet 16 four years ago when the Red Dragons were just embarking on their return to national relevance under Steve Axtell's guidance and the Falcons humbled them 6-0. Messiah also won two regualr season matches in the mid-2000's. In the other Sweet 16 contest, Rochester and Eastern are reunited two years after Eastern eliminated Rochester f2-0 in the first round of the 2016 tournament, their only previous meeting.
Should Messiah and Rochester advance to the quarterfinals, it would be a repeat of last season and the fifth meeting in the tournament. Messiah won 2-0 in last year's Elite 8 tilt to add to tournament wins over Rochester in three straight years from 2007 to 2009 in the Elite 8, second round, and Sweet 16, respectively. If Messiah and Eastern would be Elite 8 competitors, if would mark their first NCAA encounter and first overall meeting since 2000. The two Christian institutions traded wins in four regular season matches from 1997 to 2000 to add to the ledger of 28 total games dating back to 1967, many played while both were members of the NCCAA, a couple in the national championship.
Despite their proximity, Cortland and Rochester would be meeting for the first time in 25 years if they tangled in the quarterfinals. Though obviously completely irrelavent in 2018, Cortland won three regualr season matches from 1990 to 1993 to pad their lead in the series to 15-7-4. Cortland and Eastern would be playing each other for the first time if they would adavnce to play Sunday.
Why they will advance to the Final Four
Messiah: Being better and deeper doesn’t guarantee wins, but it’s a good start, so while Messiah’s squad may not be as strong and deep as some of its predecessors, it still has few equals across Division III. Moreover, the Falcons have a strong track record of playing their best ball of the season during the tournament, typically finding a way to elevate their play collectively and individually when it matters most. Despite moving parts, the defense is as good as it’s been all season and, having ended his four-game scoring drought with the pressure and distraction of the goal-scoring streak in the rearview mirror, Nick West is going to be extremely difficult to deny for 90 minutes. With respect to semifinal opponent Cortland, Messiah relishes the chance to avenge past losses and blemishes, and having already done so versus Johns Hopkins in the second round, the Falcons will be more focused than ever to ensure that, just as they are a different—better—team now, the result against Cortland will be different from opening day. The challenge for any Elite 8 opponent is multiplied by playing a second day in a row against Messiah’s superior ball possession and squad depth, not to mention the shorter turnaround time.
Cortland State: Cortland will have confidence from how they got on top of Messiah on opening day as well as motivation to improve on the disappointment of having let a two-goal lead slip away. Also, that encounter ensures there’s no awe or fear of facing Messiah to be overcome this Saturday. The Red Dragons on average are bigger and stronger than the Falcons—and Eastern—and will certainly look to use that to their advantage. They also have a better attacking trifecta in Jake Keller (18 goals), Migell Ormsby (12 goals) and Miguel Tunas (12 assists) than Messiah has faced all year including opening day as this trio has improved and gelled over the length of the season. The Dragons’ physicality and defensive organization and discipline, with a focus on making someone other than Nick West beat them, can hold the Falcons at bay if they stay focused for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, at the other end, they will create chances against a Falcon backline that isn’t completely settled or prepared for what Cortland can throw at them, and it’s just a matter of converting on one or two of those chances.
Rochester: Rochester plays in the toughest, deepest conference in Division III, the UAA, where they acquitted themselves quite nicely. They are battled tested by playing the likes of Chicago, Case Western, Carnegie Mellon, et al. and will fear no one. The Yellowjackets defended against Chicago and their dynamic, multi-faceted attack about as well as anybody all season, so nothing any of the three teams has to offer going forward will unsettle them. If they could keep Chicago off the scoreboard for 88 minutes, they can shutout any of the teams in this Sectional. Having been beaten 2-0 by Eastern in the First Round two years ago will give them extra motivation Saturday and ensure their focus doesn’t stray to potential Elite 8 opponents. Rochester can match-up size-wise with Cortland if it comes to that, and will have the physical advantage against Eastern and Messiah. Rochester has the most veteran squad in the Sectional starting all seniors and juniors, and the experience of having been here just last year—not just to the Sectional Final, but specifically at and against Messiah*—will serve Rochester well. That experience and a better defense than a year ago will allow Chris Apple to prepare his Yellowjackets to reach the Final Four for the first time in program history. (* Editor’s Note: the sectional has been moved to Rochester)
Eastern: Head coach Payne and his assistants have championship-winning experience as players and will certainly have learned a lot from the coaching staff at Messiah about how to prepare for and approach games such as these. That will be invaluable for the Eagles. Eastern doesn’t have the pedigree of any of the other programs in the Sectional and are one of the surprises in the Sweet 16, but that also means they can play loose and without the pressure of having to live up to expectations. But as competitors, both the players and the coaching staff, they will not be in “just-happy-to-be-here” mode this weekend. That hunger combined with the belief and confidence gained from beating F&M for a second time—and this time on the road—will see Eastern maximizing their potential and surprising any team that thinks they got a good draw and have one eye already on the next round. Their defense knows how to absorb pressure and bend but not break, and then it’s just a matter finding that one goal at the other end, something they’ve done in all but one early season game this season.
|Other Sectional Previews: WEST | GREAT LAKES | NORTHEAST|
Comments or feedback for the authors? E-mail Christan Shirk and Henry Loughlin.