Tufts hosted two non-conference opponents in the build-up to Homecoming weekend, splitting the decisions. Falling 2–1 in an overtime defeat to the Brandeis Judges (7–0) on Saturday, the Jumbos recovered in midweek to defeat the neighboring MIT Engineers (7–2–1) in another overtime game. With that, the Jumbos now sit at 6–1 overall and third in the NESCAC.
The team is taking its first loss of the season in stride and extracting many lessons on where it can improve, both mentally and on the field of play.
“I believe the most important lesson we learned on Saturday was one that was both humbling and confidence-inducing: We can hang with the best teams in the country and need to have the confidence that this is the case,” senior forward and co-captain Alex Aronson said. “But we need to know that if we don’t put games away, we won’t get the results that are deserved.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Jumbos recovered from their first defeat of the season with a tight 1–0 overtime victory over the MIT Engineers. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed due to rain.
Matches between both teams have been tight in recent years, and this year’s edition was no exception. Both teams opted for a high pressing game, often forcing the other team into rushed passes while in possession and leading to an overall scrappy game. The first real chance of the game fell to the visitors inside 10 minutes. A corner kick taken by junior midfielder Emily Berzolla found a completely open sophomore defender Maya Nielan, who headed the ball wide. Chances were evenly spread out between both teams — 13 to 12 in Tufts’ favor — but both goalkeepers were hardly troubled with shots coming to them at a comfortable pace or height.
It took a sheer piece of magic from the reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year sophomore forward Sophie Lloyd to break the tie. In the 98th minute, classmate forward Liz Reed received the ball from a throw-in and laid the ball off to Lloyd. Lloyd curled the ball from outside the box and ended the game with some assistance from the goalpost. That goal put Lloyd back on top of the NESCAC goal-scoring leaderboard, as her teammates rushed on to the field to celebrate her incredible winner.
However, things were much closer on Saturday as Tufts fell in its first defeat of the season, losing 2–1 in overtime against Brandeis. The highly anticipated match-up against the Judges was easily the toughest opponent the Jumbos have faced thus far. The Jumbos had won all of their previous games by at least two goals and had yet to concede a single goal all season up to this point, while the No. 12 Judges likewise came into the game unbeaten and with a highly touted offensive attack.
Brandeis dictated the pace for much of the first half, taking nine shots compared to six from Tufts and keeping Tufts from playing its preferred possession style of play. It did not take long for Brandeis to get on the board, as junior defender Amanda Fernbach slotted a goal past the outstretched arms of Tufts’ senior goalkeeper Emily Bowers just 15 minutes into the contest. Brandeis’ goal was the first the four-year starter had conceded all season.
“I believe we gave them too much respect in the first half and allowed them to stay in the game rather than just playing our own,” Aronson said. “Brandeis had the fastest speed of play as well as some of the most effective offense that we have seen this season. Their speed of play challenged our defense all over the field, and their strong offense, from their defense up to their forwards, posed a defensive challenge for us all over the field in the first half.”
The high press was the most disruptive part of the game for the Jumbos, who like to build their offensive attack from the back and score through well-paced possession.
“We were definitely disappointed with our performance in the first half,” senior midfielder and co-captain Emma Ranalli said. “They pressed us more than we were comfortable with and disrupted our ability to keep possession.”
However, it was a tale of two halves for the Jumbos, who were able to settle down and play their brand of soccer after the halftime whistle. Tufts turned in a dominant second-half performance, outshooting Brandeis 10 to three in the second half and controlling the possession. The breakthrough came in the 69th minute, when Lloyd and Reed, who led the team in goals and assists respectively, connected for the equalizer, though this time, it was Reed finishing off the play from Lloyd’s set up.
The Jumbos kept up the high energy and attacking play through the end of the half, but were not able to find the back of the net again.
“We responded really well in the second half and definitely [played] much better, but we didn’t finish our chances and that makes it incredibly difficult to beat such a strong team as Brandeis,” Ranalli said.
Unfortunately for Tufts, the golden goal overtime period ended in under seven minutes when Brandeis was awarded a penalty kick. Sophomore midfielder Daria Bakhtiari was able to convert and the final whistle blew. Though the final goal was not allowed in the usual flow of play, the typically shutdown defense of the Jumbos experienced its very first blemishes of the season.
Ranalli was quick to put the conceded goals on the team as a whole, praising the play of Bowers and the back three.
“There is so much confidence with Bowers in goal and [the] three of them in front of her,” Ranalli said. “Saturday it was breakdowns across the entire team that hurt us. I think the defensive unit played really well and kept us in the game.”
The Jumbos know they can beat any team they face, but they are going to have to play the way they did in the second half against Brandeis to keep getting wins. Their schedule continues to get tougher as they will face more NESCAC opponents heading into the end of the season.
Tufts will host two games this Homecoming weekend, first against No. 19 Amherst College on Saturday before playing Hamilton the next day.