Men's Semifinal 2 Preview
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NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal 2
Friday, November 30 — 1:45 pm ET
No. 3 Tufts (16-0-3)
No. 10 Rochester (16-2-2)
How they reached the Final Four
2018 Statistical Overview
Tufts Season Review
When Tufts came out of nowhere to win a national title in 2014, the Jumbos just barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection. The next year, Josh Shapiro’s side went 9-4-3 during the regular season, and were made to sweat whether or not it’d get a second consecutive NCAA selection, which they ended up receiving en route to a run to the Sweet 16 before falling to Kenyon. 2016 saw Tufts win another national title and—though D-III soccer observers were a bit more aware of the Jumbos—it all came as a result of an at-large bid that was far from certain. Last year, the Jumbos were able to get the NESCAC AQ, before a defeat to Brandeis in the Elite 8 saw their season come to a seemingly premature close. And while Tufts was an at-large selection this year, it won’t be sneaking up on anyone.
Like they did last year, the Jumbos started incredibly well, winning nine in a row in September, including notable victories over longtime NESCAC rival Amherst and local foe Brandeis. Tufts dropped its first points on October 6 in a 1-1 draw at Middlebury, but that didn’t set the Jumbos back at all. They proceeded to down NEWMAC frontrunner Babson, register a tie at Connecticut College in a game that they statistically dominated, and register wins over Trinity (Conn.), Williams, and Bowdoin, the latter being the first victory over the Polar Bears—Tufts' supposed bogey team—since 2013. Tufts was unable to defend its NESCAC crown, as it was knocked out on penalty kicks in its NESCAC quarterfinal against Colby, but the two weeks off—which included a first round bye—appears to have given the Jumbos the recovery they needed. Empire 8 Champion and longtime power Stevens, despite playing 110 minutes the day before against Gordon, gave Tufts a good game in the second round, but the Jumbos’ persistence paid off, as Gavin Tasker’s goal with less than 10 minutes remaining saw the side to a 1-0 win. Tufts is deep, talented, athletic, and ruthlessly efficient: the Jumbos can play some nice possession-based combinations at times, but what they’re even better at is just plain getting results. There’s a good chance that the road to the national title will go through Tufts.
Tufts, by virtue of being the top seed in their quadrant, hosted their Sectional and did battle with a familiar foe, Amherst, in the Sweet 16. Though the visiting Mammoths held firm in the first half, Tufts blew the game open with second-half goals from Brett Rojas, Zachary Seigelstein, and Jarrod Glover to win 3-0. Sunday’s Elite 8 battle with NJAC Champion Montclair State was thought to be more competitive, but the Jumbos blew the Red Hawks away with three goals in the first 20 minutes—adding another before halftime—en route to a 4-0 victory, putting the Jumbos in the Final Four for the third time in the last five years.
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 in as many years.
The Yellowjackets hosted their Sectional due to a snowstorm hitting Pennsylvania and rendering Messiah’s fields unplayable. After seeing off Eastern 1-0 in the Sweet 16, Rochester fell into an Elite 8 rematch with Messiah. Though the Yellowjackets lost 2-0 at Messiah last year, this was a new game: Rochester struck first, as Patrice Douge’s goal gave the hosts the half time lead. Predictably, Messiah came back with a vengeance, led by forward Nick West, who scored his last career goal (and 30th of the season) in the 50th minute to tie things up, 1-1. And while the visiting Falcons have long made a habit out of rallying to win NCAA games, the Yellowjackets grabbed the winner off an own goal in the 81st minute, sending Rochester to its first Final Four.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 18)
Players to Watch
Tufts: #5 F Joe Braun (Jr.) – 9g, 4a, 5gwg (NESCAC 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #2 M Gavin Tasker (Jr.) – 6g, 3a, 2gwg (NESCAC 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #10 M Brett Rojas (Jr.) – 2g, 9a, 1gwg (NESCAC 2nd Team) | #19 D Sterling Weatherbie (Sr.) – 4g, 1a, 2gwg (NESCAC 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #26 M Calvin Aroh (So.) | #16 D Biagio Paoletta (So.) – 1a (NESCAC 2nd Team) | #0 GK Connor Mieth (Sr.) – 0.47 GAA, 0.850 SvPct
Rochester: #4 M Bryce Ikeda (Sr.) – 7g, 6a, 4gwg (UAA 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #5 D Lucas Loecher (Sr.) – (UAA 1st Team, All Region 3rd Team) | #8 F Aidan Miller (Jr.) – 5g, 2a, 2gwg (UAA 2nd Team) | #32 M Zach Lawlor (Jr.) – 2g, 1a (UAA 2nd Team) | #14 M Josh Cooley (Jr.) – 6g, 3gwg (UAA Hon. Men.) | #27 D/M Will Eisold (Jr.) – 1a | #11 D Nik Angval (Sr.) – 6a (UAA Hon. Men., All Region 3rd Team) | #0 GK Patrick Conway (Sr.) – 0.62 GAA, 0.821 SvPct (UAA Hon. Men.)
The Jumbos and Yellow Jackets have never met in the NCAA tournament, nor have they ever met during the regular season in these programs’ lengthy history. Should Tufts advance, the possibility of a Final Four rematch looms with Calvin. The Jumbos and the Knights faced off in the championship match just two years ago with the Jumbos prevailing 1-0 in the second overtime period. If the Yellow Jackets and Knights both advance this would be their first tournament meeting. Calvin did meet in Rochester to open the 2011 season with the host victorious 3-1.
Tufts and Chicago have never played each other in the NCAA tournament nor in the regular season. At the other extreme, the Maroons and Yellow Jackets first played in 1983 and have met annually since 1987 with Rochester holding an 18-10-5 all time advantage, but the Maroon seniors stand 3-0-1 over their Yellow Jacket counterparts.
Tufts and Rochester have been two of the foremost names in Division III soccer in the 21st century, making this a match befitting of a national semifinal.
The Jumbos, who came out of nowhere to win the 2014 Championship in Josh Shapiro’s fifth year at the helm, repeated the feat two years later. Tufts made two further NCAA appearances since that first title, advancing to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 once each, and won the NESCAC title last year.
The Yellowjackets, meanwhile, have long been in the national conversation under Chris Apple, a former Yellowjacket player-turned-head coach. Under Apple’s tutelage, they have made 11 NCAA appearances in 18 years, and have also won five UAA titles. Yet, prior to this year, they had never made a Final Four.
The Jumbos can win games in a number of different ways: in the 2014 Final Four, it used swashbuckling attacking play to get by past champions Ohio Wesleyan and Wheaton (Ill.). In 2016, Tufts rode defensive solidity to the title, capitalizing on a set piece in the double-overtime title win against Calvin. Some teams try to play slick, silky soccer no matter what the situation, but Tufts knows better, and its adaptability has played a large role in its success. They generally try to keep the ball on the ground and play through the midfield but can bypass it when necessary.
Playing a 4-1-4-1, Tufts has a front five that is incredibly strong, consisting of midfielders Brett Rojas and Travis van Brewer, wingers Zach Lane and Gavin Tasker, and striker Joe Braun. Having seen limited time in his first two years, Braun has made the center forward spot his own. His nine goals thus far this year is certainly a respectable total, but what he also excels at is interchanging with the runners from midfield. During the Shapiro era, Tufts has had a history of target forwards who can certainly score goals but also unselfishly set up teammates, and Braun has proved himself in that regard. Defensively, Biagio Paoletta has emerged as the Jumbos’ leader at center back, and -- along with right back Sterling Weatherbie -- has filled the on-field general role well. Holding midfielder Calvin Aroh is the Jumbos’ unsung hero, and his size and athleticism have made the loss of All-American Tyler Kulcsar less impactful than it could have been. Behind them is goalkeeper Conner Mieth, a savvy operator in his second year as Tufts’ primary starter. Mieth’s 0.47 GAA and 0.850 save percent puts him in elite company, and he’ll need to be on the top of his game against the barrage of balls -- high and low, crosses and diagonals -- Rochester will put into the box.
While Tufts’ athleticism and depth have certainly gained attention, it will be coming up against a Rochester side that -- if not its equal -- will certainly give the Jumbos a run for their money in both departments. The aptly-named Yellowjackets “swarm” their opponents, and do an impressive job balancing high-pressure play with excellent defensive organization. They play in the UAA, a competitive league known for having skillful, possession-based teams, and while Rochester’s intent to play quick passes is evident, the Yellowjackets are physical and athletic -- much like other NESCAC teams that Tufts does battle with -- and can score goals from open play and set pieces equally well.
For Rochester, Bryce Ikeda has been one of the most consistent performers in the UAA the last two seasons in midfield, and his team-leading seven goals and six assists earned him First Team All-UAA honors. He is the Yellowjackets’ leader, both on the field and in the statistics. Fellow All-UAA honoree Josh Cooley (Honorable Mention) got the game-winner in the Yellowjackets' opening day 2OT win over RPI, and has picked up key tallies against Hobart, Buffalo State, Keuka, Endicott, and Eastern this year, while Aidan Miller (Second Team All-UAA honoree) has five goals and two assists himself. Defensively, 6’2” freshman Will Eisold has really emerged for the Yellowjackets, starting the last 11 games in a row for Rochester, while senior goalkeeper Patrick Conway has shone between the sticks. A starter as a sophomore, Conway was forced to sit the bench much of his junior year, before making the spot his own this year, earning All-UAA Honorable Mention in the process. He may not have the size of some of his goalkeeping peers, but Conway's athleticism and soccer IQ has helped him to a goals-against average of 0.62 on the year, and a save percent of 0.821.
Much like Tufts, Rochester prefers to keep the ball on the ground and play short, quick passes but can go direct when necessary. Ikeda’s long throw has proved particularly potent, and one can be sure that the Yellowjackets will look to use it to their advantage. Tufts, meanwhile, has made a point to improve its set piece conversion this year -- the Jumbos scored on one corner out of approximately 150 last season -- and they’ve shown a marked improvement, scoring from eight this year. If anything, Tufts probably has a slight edge on set pieces due to a slight size advantage, but Rochester’s set piece potency should prove similarly dangerous.
As one might be able to tell, there’s not much to choose between these two teams. Tufts has the slight size advantage, but Rochester’s athleticism and physicality will ensure that the Yellowjackets aren’t intimidated. Both have played tough schedules in tough conferences, possess very good, battle-tested goalkeepers and defensive units, and have solid midfields and opportunistic strikers who work well within their systems. Moreover, both look to utilize runners from the midfield in the attack but keep their shape incredibly well when they don’t have the ball. If nothing else, it certainly doesn’t seem likely that Tufts will have the same amount of space to work with as it did in demolishing Montclair State in the Elite 8.
It may not end up being the free-flowing, open classic that the purists might hope for, but this game should be entertaining. Two skilled, physical, and athletic teams without any glaring weaknesses are doing battle -- this one could well go 100 or even 110 minutes, and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see it decided on a set piece.
|Other Previews: Men's Semifinal 1||Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Henry Loughlin.