Top-Seeded Panthers Host Final Rounds for First Time
HADLEY, Mass. - Defending NESCAC and NCAA champion Middlebury College will look to capture its second-straight conference crown and third in program history this weekend when the Panthers host the semifinals and final of the 2008 NESCAC Men’s Soccer Championship in Middlebury, Vt. Top-seeded Middlebury will face fourth-seeded Williams in the first semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 8 and will be followed shortly after by third-seeded Trinity taking on second-seeded Amherst. The 2008 NESCAC Men’s Soccer Championship concludes on Sunday, Nov. 9 with the final match slated for a 12:00 p.m. start. Fans unable to make it to Middlebury this weekend will be able to follow all of the action live on D3cast.com.
Although the 2008 regular season witnessed a great deal of balance across the conference and produced an unpredictable finish for most, Middlebury (12-1-2, 6-1-2 NESCAC) performed at a consistent level throughout and emerged as this year’s top seed a week before the Panthers’ final contest. The defending NESCAC champs sprinted out of the gate this fall, going unbeaten in nine consecutive games before tripping up at home to Bates on Oct. 18 by a 1-0 score. Middlebury took care of business early in its quarterfinal contest against Bowdoin by scoring three first half goals en route to a 3-0 victory. Defense has been the foundation for another stellar season for the Panthers. Middlebury has allowed a league-low five goals through 15 games this season, surrendering no more than one goal in any match while recording a conference-best 10 shutouts. Goalkeeper Brian Bush (Madison, Wis.), an All-Conference First Team selection in 2007, has enjoyed a remarkable senior season between the posts for Middlebury. At 12-1-2, Bush owns the best goals against average (0.32) and save percentage (.900) in the NESCAC. The credit for Bush’s success can be directly contributed to the play of the backs in front of him. The defensive corps has stifled opponents by allowing on average 6.53 shots per contest and only 11 shots on net all season, a microscopic average of 0.73 per game. Up front, rookie sensation Tyler Macnee (Williston, Vt.) powers the offense, tallying 12 goals to place in a two-way tie for the conference lead.
Middlebury will engage a very familiar foe in the form of fourth-seeded Williams (8-5-2, 4-4-1 NESCAC) during Saturday’s first contest. The Ephs and the Panthers are the only two teams that have participated in the semifinals in each year the tournament has been held. It should come as no surprise that these two squads have faced each other in six of the previous eight championships, with four of those meetings requiring overtime and the last two needing penalty kicks to determine which team would advance. While Williams holds the all-time playoff series advantage at 3-1-2, it was Middlebury that moved on via a 3-0 penalty kick margin during last year’s 1-1 draw in the semifinals. The lone battle between the two clubs this season occurred last Friday in Williamstown, Mass. with the Panthers earning a 1-0 victory. The NESCAC championship has been synonymous with Williams in recent years as the Ephs have won five of the eight previous conference crowns, their most recent coming in 2006 over Middlebury. In the midst of a five-game winless streak at the end of the regular season (0-3-2), Williams regrouped in the quarterfinals and overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit to Bates with three unanswered goals during the second half for a 3-1 victory. Guiding the offensive attack for the Ephs has been seniors Sam Empson (Washington, D.C.) and Peter Gordon (Woburn, Mass.). Both players are among the league leaders in scoring this season, with Empson recording a team-high seven goals and six assists for 20 points while Gordon is right behind with six tallies and four helpers for 16 points.
Amherst (10-3-2, 5-3-1 NESCAC) emerged as the second seed from the pack of six teams vying for three home quarterfinal contests on the final day of the regular season. The Jeffs claimed the second spot in this year’s standings by posting a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime victory on the road over their semifinal opponent, Trinity. While Amherst has been solid as of late, going 7-1-2 in its last 10 outings and outscoing opponents 25-6, the Jeffs will need to stay focused if they hope to capture the program’s first conference crown. Amherst appeared poised to do so a year ago, earning the number-one seed in the 2007 championship and reaching the final for the second time in three years only to come away empty-handed in a 1-0 loss to Middlebury. Once again, the Jeffs enter the semifinals with the firepower of the league’s top offense at their disposal, averaging an even 3.0 goals per game, and a defense that is second only to the Panthers with a goals against average of 0.87. Leading the attack for Amherst has been the combination of senior forward Jake Duker (Newton, Mass.) and freshman forward Jae Heo (Changwon, South Korea). Duker is tied with Middlebury’s Macnee for the conference mark in goals (12) and points (26). Like Macnee, Heo has also impressed during his first campaign in the NESCAC, scoring 10 goals and two assists for 22 points, second behind Duker for the Jeffs. In net, another freshman has also shined for Amherst. Goalkeeper Lennard Kovacs (Wolfersdorf, Germany) is 7-2-2 with a .843 save percentage and an 0.67 goals against average (2nd NESCAC).
After earning a spot in last year’s championship field for the first time since 2003, third-seeded Trinity (11-4-0, 5-4-0 NESCAC) took it a step further this season by not only securing home field in the first round for the first time but also reaching the semifinals for the first time in championship history. The Bantams recorded their first tournament win on Sunday in the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory against Tufts. Saturday’s contest, which will be the first playoff meeting between the two teams, may prove to be a shootout since Trinity brings an offense that ranks second only to Amherst, averaging 2.33 goals per game. The Bantams benefit from the fact that three of their players rank among the top 10 in the league in scoring. Junior forward Sam Wisner (Wayland, Mass.) paces the offense with eight goals and eight assists for 24 points (3rd NESCAC), while senior forward Nick Cantone (New York, N.Y.) is right behind with eight goals and seven assists for 23 points (4th). Rookie forward Dan Mayernick (Gladwyne, Pa.) rounds out the conference’s top 10 in points as he is tied for ninth with Williams’ Gordon after recording seven goals and two assists for 16 points. The trio, along with the rest of the Bantams, hope to lead Trinity to its first victory over Amherst since 1999.
2008 NESCAC MEN’S SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP
Semifinals - Saturday, November 8 at Middlebury
No. 4 Williams at No. 1 Middlebury - 11:00 a.m.
No. 3 Trinity vs. No. 2 Amherst - 1:30 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, November 9 at Middlebury
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.