Men's Sectional Previews: Great Lakes
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GREAT LAKES SECTIONAL
Case Western (Cleveland, OH)
Friday/Saturday, Nov. 16-17
Third Round - Friday
Quarterfinals - Saturday
Sectional Final, 7:00 pm ET
How they reached the Sweet 16
2018 Statistical Overview
Case Western Reserve Season Review
Case Western expected improvement in 2018, but a top NCAA seed and Sweet Sixteen berth seemed a stretch in August. Case had not had a winning record since 2015, when a weak out-of-conference schedule left the 13-4-1 Spartans out of the NCAA tournament. Coach Bianco solved the scheduling issues in 2016 and 2017, as Case faced arguably the toughest slate in the country. But the Spartans struggled to win big games, going only 2-8-2 against ranked teams. In 2018, an opening weekend loss to Mount Union suggested more of the same.
Instead, Case took off, responding with seven straight wins. The Spartans beat NCAA participants John Carroll and Capital, then put down a marker in the Great Lakes by blanking Kenyon 3-0. But the UAA is a different animal, and Case failed to score in a draw with Brandeis before slumping to a 3-0 home defeat to NYU. At 0-1-1 in conference play, the season could have slipped away. But Case responded again, picking up a crucial win over Washington University before shocking No. 1 Chicago on Senior Day. The Spartans followed up with strong wins at Rochester and Emory, but another UAA defeat—this time to Carnegie Mellon—raised some concern going into the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans seemed to have a bit of a hangover and, despite hosting, trailed heavy underdog Keystone at the half. Coach Bianco’s team talk worked, however, as Case immediately leveled through Alex Besl before Zachary Senft fired home two goals in the final 15 minutes to propel the Spartans into the second round. Case faced a rematch with Capital, having barely edged the Crusaders in overtime back in September. A scoreless first half hinted at another tight one, but Case shocked Capital with two early second half goals, just 13 seconds apart, on the way to a 3-0 win. Now the Spartans face another rematch, this time against Kenyon.
Kenyon Season Review
I must admit, I thought Kenyon’s window had closed. The Lords had Final Four expectations from 2014 to 2017, but graduation took its toll, and Alberto Carmona, their midfield general, did not return for his senior season. How wrong I was. Kenyon’s defense is always strong, and returning All-American Bret Lowry led another smothering back line. But the offense was the true revelation. Coach Brown improved Kenyon’s depth over the last few years, often playing 20 or more players in games, and it paid off in 2018. The Lords have scored 72 goals, over 30 more than last year. And they have done so by committee. Only one player (David Anderson) has hit double digits, but 10 others have scored at least three goals. Balanced scoring, both in scorer and in style, has been the story of Kenyon’s season.
The Lords opened the season with a convincing 4-0 win over John Carroll, then drew at Carnegie Mellon despite being the better side. Kenyon coasted through September, scoring 4 or more on 5 occasions, but ran into a buzzsaw at Case Western. The Lords fell asleep and behind on an early corner and never recovered, struggling through a 3-0 loss. But a weak NCAC provided relief, as Kenyon rebounded with 4 straight wins before squaring off with Ohio Wesleyan. Kenyon controlled the first half but was lucky to survive the second, with a 1-1 final a fair reflection of the game. The Lords then almost missed out on a rematch, as a conference semifinal with Wabash looked headed for penalties. But Lowry appeared from nowhere to score with two seconds left in double overtime, setting the stage for a repeat of the 2017 NCAC final, where Kenyon fell in penalties. Instead of a heavyweight fight, Kenyon delivered a first-round knockout, mauling Ohio Wesleyan with three first-half goals and coasting to a 4-0 win.
The momentum carried into the NCAA tournament, as Kenyon eased by Maryville without giving up a shot on goal. But a rematch with Carnegie Mellon nearly undid the Lords. Kenyon was unable to make a strong first half tell on the scoreboard, and Carnegie Mellon took the lead early in the second. Kenyon’s offense simply was not clicking, and the Lords’ alternative methods—an endless supply of crosses, long-throws, and long services into the box—seemed more hit-and-hope than anything. But, as against Wabash, Kenyon kept pushing. With goalkeeper Ian McInturf in the attacking box and the ball bouncing around, freshman Sam Carson popped up to score with just 33 seconds remaining. From there the outcome was never in doubt, and Sam Hosmer-Quint headed the Lords into the Sweet Sixteen late in the first overtime.
Calvin Season Review
From last year’s Sectional preview: “Calvin plays a strong (but short) non-conference schedule, then steamrolls the MIAA before making a deep tournament run. Sound familiar? It should. Calvin used that playbook to reach the Final Four in 2015 and in 2016 and looks to be on the same path this year. The Knights have been so consistent that I considered copying and pasting last year’s season review to see if any non-Calvin fans would notice. So what’s new this year?”
Rinse and repeat. Granted, 2017 did not end in a Final Four trip, as the Knights fell to Chicago in the Sweet 16. But the rest is familiar. Calvin opened the season strong, scoring 27 goals—not a typo—in its first four games, all against respectable opponents. The Knights again fell to Chicago, but controlled much of the play, and the experience confirmed what everyone knows: that the Knights are a real national title threat. The MIAA was improved this year, and with Dave Brandt at the helm, Hope aimed to dethrone Calvin. The Knights had none of it, grounding the Flying Dutchmen 5-0 in the regular season matchup, and 5-0 again for good measure in the conference semifinals.
After winning the MIAA title 2-1, the Knights finally received a home weekend in the NCAA tournament. Incredibly, Calvin did not host a single NCAA game in 2015, 2016, or 2017, despite losing only twice across three full seasons. This year, playing at home, Calvin handled Greenville with ease, with a Lucas Albrecht brace settling the game before halftime. UW-Platteville provided a sterner test, parking the bus and frustrating Calvin for most of the game. But the Knights persisted, even after missing a penalty, and Jacob Witte scored twice in the final 20 minutes to send Calvin to a fourth straight Sweet 16.
Penn State-Behrend Season Review
Penn State-Behrend has been the class of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference for years. However, the Lions have failed to make a postseason mark in recent times, falling in penalties in the conference final in 2015 and 2017, with a close first-round NCAA loss in 2016. That all changed in 2018. PSU-Behrend opened strong, winning 3 of 4, including a 2-0 victory over John Carroll. But five straight road games revealed weaknesses, in particular a lack of goals against quality competition, as PSU-Behrend dropped tight contests against Geneva (1-2) and Grove City (0-1). A draw against Medaille and a lopsided 4-1 loss to Carnegie Mellon meant that, once again, it was conference tournament or bust.
The Lions found their groove on both sides of the ball down the stretch. The offense started pumping in goals, using matchups against the bottom half of the league to build confidence. That momentum carried through the conference tournament, as PSU-Behrend scored 5 on Franciscan in the semifinals. Then, in a rematch of the 2017 final, the Lions left nothing to chance, scoring two goals in the final 15 minutes to top Medaille and secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. PSU-Behrend is balanced all around, with a varied attack, strong defense, and a nice mix of experience and underclassmen, led by seniors Dakota Lange up front and Chris Ralph in goal.
Despite the success. Coach Perritano’s team were underdogs as they traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to take on a Lycoming team that had just played No. 1 Messiah to a draw. But the Lions flew out of the gates to take a 1-0 lead on a goal by freshman sensation Logan Brinsky in the fourth minute. They dominated the first half, outshooting Lycoming 10-2, then withstood a second-half charge behind strong goalkeeping from Ralph. In a rematch with John Carroll, neither side blinked and Ralph, Andrew Mastovich, and the rest of the back line held off John Carroll’s push in the second half to force extra time. Early in the second overtime, Dakota Lange fielded a through ball, and made up for a poor first touch with an acrobatic finish to continue PSU-Behrend’s best season in school history.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 11)
Bianco has Final Four experience as a coach and as a player, but nobody on Case’s roster had played an NCAA game before last weekend. Kenyon and Calvin, by contrast, are intimately familiar with the Sweet 16. The Lords have won 8 NCAA games in 4 seasons, while Calvin has won 13, with several starters having played in two Final Fours already. As for PSU-Behrend, only three current players saw the field in 2016’s NCAA loss to Scranton, so this will be new to most of the squad.
Players to Watch
Case Western: #23 M Zachary Senft (Jr.) – 10g, 8a, 3 gwg (UAA 1st Team) | #9 F Alex Besl (Sr.) – 9g, 3a, 3 gwg (UAA 1st Team) | #11 M Garrett Winter (Jr.) – 9g, 6a, 4gwg | #24 D Nathan Ekberg (So.) – 4g, 0a, 1gwg (UAA 1st Team)
Kenyon: #3 M David Anderson (Sr.) – 12g, 2a, 3gwg (NCAC MidPOY) | #2 D Bret Lowry (Sr.) – 3g, 0a, 2gwg (NCAC DefPOY) | #8 F Brice Koval (Sr.) – 7g, 1a, 3gwg (NCAC 1st Team) | #5 D Sam Hosmer-Quint (So.) – 2g, 2a, 1gwg
Calvin: #6 D Trent Vegter (Sr.) – 3g, 6a (MIAA MVP) | #16 F Bobby McCaw (Sr.) – 20g, 12a, 4gwg (MIAA 1st Team) | #7 M Hunter Olson (Jr.) – 11g, 7a, 2gwg (MIAA 1st Team) | #9 M Jacob Witte (Sr.) – 16g, 6a, 5gwg (MIAA 1st Team)
PSU-Behrend: #20 GK Chris Ralph (Sr.) – 0.67 GAA, .831 Sv% (AMCC DefPOY) | #23 F Dakota Lange (Sr.) – 9g, 3a, 3gwg (AMCC 1st Team) | #4 M Aaron Harris (Jr.) – 3g, 4a, 1gwg (AMCC 1st Team) | #31 D Andrew Mastovich (Jr.) – 3g, 0a (AMCC 1st Team)
Case surprised then-undefeated Kenyon in late September. Kenyon’s only blemish had been a disappointing draw against Carnegie Mellon, and the Lords were the favorites coming into Cleveland. But the Spartans jumped on the Lords with an early goal from Christian Lytle on a corner, scored a second midway through the first half, and held Kenyon’s high-powered offense to just two shots on goal en route to a 3-0 win. The loss was a mere blip for the Lords, and remains their only defeat to date, but the win confirmed that Case was for real.
Why they will advance to the Final Four
Case Western: Playing at home and with belief from September’s win, Case counterpunches through Kenyon’s pressure. The Spartans ruthlessly punish a mistake midway through the first half, then, true to form, score just after halftime to complete a 2-0 win. Saturday night’s Elite Eight game is tight, but Senft conjures another bit of magic and the defense stands tall to send Case to the Final Four.
Kenyon: Kenyon has made the Sweet 16 in 5 of the last 6 seasons, and has been Final-Four good since 2014. No previous team could break through, but this year’s edition has a different feel. The Lords play a familiar style, but Coach Brown’s guys have added belief that seemed to abandon past teams in moments of need. Kenyon grinds out another win, getting a late set-piece goal to edge Case. Then, with the Final Four finally within reach, Kenyon puts together a complete performance, scoring in each half to get over the hump.
Calvin: This is Calvin’s year. The Knights have the best defender in the country, a high-powered offense, and loads of experience. They have punished underdogs all year, and score two early goals against PSU-Behrend to end the Cinderella run. Their style works even better against good teams, and the Knights take advantage of the extra space offered down the wings by Case or Kenyon. An early second-half goal is all Vegter and Co. need, but Calvin picks up an insurance goal late to give Coach Souders and his squad another shot at a title.
PSU-Behrend: A Sweet Sixteen appearance surprised some, but the Lions are not a park-the-bus-and-hope Cinderella. Coach Perritano has over 400 collegiate wins (men’s and women’s) for a reason, and his team has the weapons to advance. With nothing to lose, PSU-Behrend sneaks a goal just after halftime against Calvin and Ralph and his defense make it stand up. In the Elite 8, the floodgates finally open, with two set-piece goals and a late counter good for a 3-1 win. The program’s first Sweet 16 visit ends, incredibly, in a trip to the Final Four.
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Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.