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Men's Semifinal 2 Preview

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By D3soccer.com Contributor

NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal 2

Friday, December 6 — 7:45 pm ET

No. 2  Tufts (18-2-2)

vs.

No. 1  Calvin (23-1-1)

How they reached the Final Four

   Berth 1st / 2nd Rounds Sectional
Tufts NESCAC AQ W5-1 SUNY-Maritime (H)
W2-1 WPI (H)
W2-1 Washington and Lee (N)
W3-1 Connecticut College (N)
Calvin MIAA AQ W1-0 UW-Whitewater (H)
W3-1 St. Norbert (H)
W1-0 North Park (A)
W3-0 Luther (N)

2019 Statistical Overview

   Record (Pct.) GSA : GAA (Diff.) Avg. OWP SoS vs. Top 25 Last Ten
Tufts 18-2-2 (.864) 2.29 : 0.70 (+1.59) .609 .627 5-1-0 10-0-0
Calvin 23-1-1 (.940) 3.00 : 0.59 (+2.41) .573 .598 2-1-0 9-0-1

Tufts Season Review

Coming off an undefeated National Championship run, Tufts entered the season with impossible expectations. The early season results were impressive, as the team played some of the best soccer of the Josh Shapiro era. Towards the end of September, though, the team began to experience a wobble in form. A tie against Wesleyan and a surprisingly narrow victory over Trinity (Conn.) were harbingers of successive defeats to come against Babson and Amherst. After dropping points in three straight and four of five, Tufts rebounded with a solid homecoming victory over Connecticut College. This proved a turning point, as the Jumbos ran off six consecutive victories through the most difficult portion of their schedule en route to a second-ever NESCAC tournament championship

This red-hot finish earned Tufts the right to host, but the opening weekend results were not entirely convincing for a heavy favorite. The first-round game against SUNY-Maritime hung in the balance until Tufts’ depth pulled away with 15 minutes to go. The next day WPI would stun the Jumbos with an early goal and took a 1-0 lead into halftime. The defending champs were up against it, as they had just 45 minutes to break down the best defensive side in the country. But Tufts drew even early in the second stanza and snatched victory in the last 30 seconds on a header by senior captain Tanner Jameson--the first goal of his career.

The Sweet Sixteen saw Tufts hit the road for the first time in three years for a matchup with Washington and Lee at Swarthmore. For the second straight game, the Jumbos found themselves trailing at the half following a rocket from W&L’s Tyler Smith. The Generals did not have the defensive record to match WPI, but they were going toe-to-toe with Tufts and it seemed likely that the next goal would decide the game. Once again, Tufts refused to go down, as Ian Daly scored with a half hour to play. The Jumbos poured on the pressure but could not find a late winner in regulation. They didn’t have to wait long, though, as a Zach Seigelstein strike just 74 seconds into overtime sent Tufts to the Elite Eight. Tufts began this winning run against Connecticut College, and now the same team stood in the Jumbos’ way. For the first time all tournament, however, Tufts put together a near-complete performance. Zach Lane got things started in just the second minute, and the Jumbos dominated first-half proceedings to the tune of an 8-2 shot advantage (4-1 on goal). That pressure paid off, as Daly and Lane each struck in the first quarter-hour of the second half to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead. Conn pulled one back late, but it was not nearly enough to stop Tufts from punching its ticket to another Final Four and a date with a familiar foe.

Calvin Season Review

To repeat a line used in both last year’s and 2017’s Sectional previews: “Calvin plays a strong non-conference schedule, then steamrolls the MIAA before making a deep tournament run. Sound familiar?” Yes, it does, given that Calvin is making its fourth Final Four appearance in five years. Programs at that level generally reload, rather than rebuild, but Ryan Souders had some holes to fill in his squad after the 2018 team finished as national runners-up. Calvin lost 3-time D3soccer.com Defender of the Year Trent Vegter, and All-Americans Bobby McCaw and Jacob Witte. Still--and to emphasize just how strong last year’s team was--Calvin returned several starters and two more All-Americans in Jacob Lyon and Ian Adams.

Calvin lost its second game of the year in a near-annual early matchup with Ohio Wesleyan, but the offense clicked into gear late in that game and scored multiple goals in 15 straight afterward. Highlights included wins over NCAA squads Ohio Northern and Chicago, but things were not quite as smooth as the last few regular seasons. The Knights had to come from behind to squeeze by a Wooster team that was 1-5 at the time, and the defense posted only three shutouts in the first 14 games. These are minor quibbles, given that Calvin ended the regular season with five straight shutouts and another MIAA regular-season and tournament double. As a top seed, Calvin got to host but muddied the Knights’ field to the point where it was nearly unplayable. The playing surface and a stubborn UW-Whitewater defense limited Calvin to a narrow 1-0 win via an own-goal after a long throw-in. Forced to play St. Norbert at nearby Grand Rapids Christian High School, the turf worked wonders for Calvin’s offense. Senior Hunter Olson scored in the sixth minute, and sophomore Sam Twigg bagged a brace over the next 25 minutes. St. Norbert pulled one back late in the first half, but Calvin kept its composure throughout the second half to close out a 3-1 win and another Sweet 16 berth.

While Calvin was probably set to host, its unplayable field shifted that honor to its opponent, North Park. The Knights found themselves in the unusual position of defending for long stretches, but the defense stood firm and limited North Park’s 18 shots to just 4 on goal. Calvin only had 6 shots at the Vikings’ goal, but in reality, both teams had chances to win it. Olson went through on goal in the second half only to see the keeper make a save, and Lyon had an opportunity on a loose ball inside the 6-yard box. But the Knights looked to be headed home when North Park’s Peder Olsen lobbed Calvin keeper Chris Morris from 30 yards . . . only for the ball to somehow bounce off the crossbar rather than into the net. Calvin steadied itself from there, but overtime saw fewer chances, and the game looked headed for penalties. But up stepped Adams, completing a give-and-go to score a golden goal with just 102 seconds left in the game. The Knights then saw the bracket do them a favor. Rather than face Ohio Wesleyan, the only team to beat them all year, Calvin instead faced a Luther team that had advanced twice on penalties and failed to put a single shot on goal against OWU. While the stats say Luther outshot and out-cornered Calvin, the Knights were good value in a comprehensive 3-0 win. Justin Wojcik scored 11 minutes in, Twigg added another off a great feed from Olson, and then returned the favor as Olson notched an insurance goal late. And the defense, which had fair questions to answer earlier in the season, posted its second straight shutout (and third in four NCAA games), holding Luther without a shot on target. That performance, arguably Calvin’s best of the year, gave the Knights another shot at Tufts and that elusive national title.

Head Coaches

Tufts

Josh Shapiro, 10th year (2010-2019), 124-37-28 (.730)

NCAA's (7 of 10 yrs.): 23-3-2 (.857) | 4th Final Four | Champ. ('14,'16,'18); Elite 8 ('17)

Calvin

Ryan Souders, 8th year (2012-2019), 161-18-8 (.882)

NCAA's (7 pf 8 yrs.): 20-5-2 (.778) | 4th Final Four | Runner-up ('16,'18), Final Four ('15), Elite 8 ('17)

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 24)

   Overall (Pct.) NCAA Appearances Record Advancement
Tufts 66-9-11 (.831) 16 17 18 19 15-1-2 Elite 8: '17; Final Four: '19; Champion: '16, '18
Calvin 89-7-2 (.918) 16 17 18 19 16-3-0 Sweet 16: '17; Final Four: '16, '18, '19

Players to Watch

Tufts: #5 F Joe Braun (Sr.) – 6g, 5a, 4gwg (NESCAC 2x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #2 M Gavin Tasker (Sr.) – 3g, 7a (NESCAC 2x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | M Calvin Aroh (Jr.) – 2g, 1a (NESCAC 1st team, All-Region 1st) | D Biagio Paoletta (Jr.) – 2g, 1a, 1gwg (NESCAC 1st team, All-Region 1st) | M Travis Van Brewer (Jr.) – 3g, 5a, 1gwg (NESCAC 2nd team All-Region 2nd)

Calvin: #7 M Hunter Olson (Sr.) - 15g, 7a (MIAA MVP, 3x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #12 F Ian Adams (Sr.) - 7g, 17a (MIAA 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #20 M Jacob Lyon (Sr.) - 3g, 1a (MIAA 3x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #2 D Drew Van Andel (Jr.) - 4g, 3a (MIAA 2x 1st team) | #23 F Sam Twigg (So.) - 14g, 13a, (MIAA 2x 1st team, All-Region 1st)

Tournament Re-Matches

Geography means Calvin and Tufts don’t meet in the regular season, but these juggernauts have faced off in two of the last three national championship games. Tufts edged each game by a single goal--a 1-0 overtime win in 2016 and a 2-1 decision last year--but Calvin played well enough to win both matches. It’s hard to take too much from either, given roster turnover, but Tufts has the confidence of getting over the hump, while Calvin has a collective chip on the shoulder from seeing the Jumbos derail title-quality teams.

Analysis

Expect a tight, cagey affair, similar to the 2016 and 2018 games. Tufts and Calvin are experienced, both in general and at the Final Four. So are their coaches, each in their fourth appearance in the last weekend of the NCAA tournament. These teams know each other well and, unlike 2016 and 2018, they have two weeks to prepare for each other. Truth be told, neither team is as dominant as its 2018 version, when both squads dominated opponents on their way to the title game. Both teams have had to grind through tough games, so a wide-open, 5-3 style scoreline, or even a lopsided 3-0 game, seems unlikely.

But one thing these teams do better than their predecessors is handle in-game adversity. Against North Park, Calvin showed it can win while seeing less of the ball. From 2015 to 2018, you could count on one hand the number of times the Knights lost the possession or shot battle, and Calvin usually lost those games. Yet the Knights soaked up North Park’s pressure and scored a great overtime goal to win it. Then they switched gears to their normal, dominant selves against Luther the next day. That versatility, that ability to adjust to what the game demands, is a necessary quality for champions.

Tufts epitomizes that quality. The Jumbos’ season was teetering in mid-October, but Tufts regrouped for two make-or-break games and put together their best soccer when they needed it. Coach Shapiro is a master at pacing his team to peak in November and December, as we saw during championship runs in 2018, 2016, and 2014. This year seems more of the same, but Tufts has now shown it can come from behind. None of Tufts’ three title teams trailed a single time during their NCAA runs. Yet this team has already recovered from two halftime deficits, knocking on the door over and over until they finally kicked it in.

Turning to stylistic matchups, both teams prefer to outpossess their opponents and press when out of possession, yet both are capable of playing more direct and counter-attacking when the opportunity presents itself. Tufts perhaps has an edge in size and athleticism, while Calvin might be the fastest team in the country. Tufts plays more through the middle, into target man Joe Braun, while Gavin Tasker and Calvin Aroh have reprised their roles in the Tufts’ midfield and enable the Jumbos to pin opponents in until the pressure results in a goal. Calvin traditionally attacks more with the wings, and continue to do so this year. But Olson has the ability to break a game open in transition through the midfield, as he did against Luther.

The biggest difference between the two teams, though, is their benches. In close games, Calvin generally uses only two or three substitutes. Tufts, by contrast, went deep into its bench in both games in which it trailed. Tufts’ depth and Coach Shapiro’s willingness to use it can cut both ways. It has helped the Jumbos to wear down opponents and win games late. But teams sometimes struggle for a period after numerous subs enter the game. Coach Souders seems to have decided that what Calvin loses in fresh legs late in games it gains by keeping its top guys on the field for 90 minutes. The key question, then, will be whether Calvin can take advantage if Tufts loses momentum when it subs, and in return whether Calvin can withstand Tufts’ fresh legs late into Friday’s game. This would have a larger impact on the second day of a back-to-back and should matter less when the teams have had two weeks off. But it remains the second-biggest thing to watch.

The key, as it was last year, is who scores the first goal. Tufts has managed to come from behind twice so far, but Calvin is a different animal on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Calvin can soak up pressure and handle Tufts’ size and athleticism better than anyone except maybe Amherst. Offensively, Calvin’s talent is perfectly suited to cutting open a Tufts team pressing while down a goal. But we could say the same thing about Tufts. The Jumbos can suffocate a team once they take the lead, as Connecticut College found out. Tufts’ depth and athleticism make it very hard to sustain possession and pressure in the Jumbos’ end for long periods, which is often what teams need to do to come from behind. And, like Calvin, Tufts has a variety of weapons and the ability to make teams pay on the break and from set pieces. Given the seasons and tournament runs of these two teams, expect Tufts to see a bit more of the ball and edge the territorial battle, but we predict the team that scores first wins.

 

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