Jumbos advance to their first-ever Final Four

Senior co-captain forward Maxime Hoppenot chases after the ball during Tufts' 2-0 win over Messiah College in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship tournament. Courtesy Muhlenberg Athletics

The men’s soccer team took its miracle run through the Div. III NCAA tournament to new heights this past weekend, defeating No. 10 Muhlenberg 2-0 in the Sweet 16 before pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament this year by beating No. 1 Messiah in the Elite Eight by a score of 1-0 on Sunday.

The Jumbos’ victory ended a 39-game winning streak for the Falcons, a team that has won nine of the past 11 national championships. For the Jumbos, the win represents the pinnacle of their recent ascent to national prominence under the direction of head coach Josh Shapiro. While the 1994 Tufts team has been the recent standard-bearer for success, it is safe to say that this season will now go down as the best ever in Tufts soccer history, with the team winning more games this season (14) than any other year and advancing to its first Final Four in program history.

Against Messiah, Tufts benefited from a goal in the first minute which allowed the team to play more conservatively than usual. It was junior midfielder Jason Kayne who provided the heroics. Just 53 seconds into the game, junior midfielder Rui Pinheiro struck a free kick into the box which was headed away by a Messiah defender. The clearance, however, found its way to Kayne’s feet just outside the box. Kayne took advantage of the opportunity and sent the shot that ended up deciding the match into the top right corner of the net only 53 seconds into the game.

For the rest of the game though, it was the defense and sophomore goalie Scott Greenwood that maintained the Jumbos’ lead, constantly thwarting the Falcons’ attack. While Tufts actually held the advantage in shots, 5-3, it was Messiah that was in control for most of the first half. The Falcons took five corner kicks and were threatening in the Jumbos’ territory, but the size of Tufts back line, led by senior center backs Sam Williams and Peter Lee-Kramer, was able to keep most of the balls Messiah sent into the box from becoming true scoring chances.

Messiah, however, turned up the heat in the final 25 minutes, and it was only due to incredible individual defensive efforts and some luck that Messiah was kept off the board. The Falcons had two attempts on goal that were cleared away by a Jumbos defender at the goal line, and then in the 78th minute, first-year forward Colby Thomas had his shot from only feet away hit the lower part of the crossbar.

The Jumbos battened down the hatches though, and amid several last attempts from the Falcons, were able to persevere.

The previous day, Tufts had an easier time handling Muhlenberg, and despite entering the half tied at 0, Tufts was able to pull away in the second half scoring goals in the 58th and 72nd minutes.

The first goal came from Lee-Kramer, who converted a header off of another free kick from Pinheiro. The goal late in the game forced Muhlenberg to open up its play more, and Tufts took advantage and secured an insurance goal from sophomore forward Nate Majumder.

Majumder was chasing down a ball that went into the box, and arrived at it only a fraction of a second before senior goalie Danny Pinto, who took Majumder down. Tufts was awarded a penalty kick, and Majumder calmly converted to put the game away for good.

Tufts now has some time to prepare for the Final Four, which will be held at the Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City. The semifinals will be held on Dec. 5, and the National Championship will be played on Dec. 6. Tufts will find out who it plays today after the result from the Ohio-Wesleyan and Christopher Newport matchup concludes in the afternoon.