The Jumbos are off to a scintillating start to the 2019 season, improving to 5–0 with wins over the Endicott Gulls on Tuesday and the Stevens Ducks on Saturday.
The Jumbos are familiar with getting off to a strong start — they have lost just once during their opening 10 games in the last four seasons. No. 3 Tufts followed up a huge comeback win against the feisty No. 9 Stevens with a win over non-conference opponent Endicott College.
Tufts ground out a 13–5 win against stingy crosstown rival Endicott on Bello Field Tuesday night. The Gulls used a patient offensive strategy to keep the ball away from the Jumbos’ electric offense while forcing senior defensive stalwart Arend Broekmate and his fellow senior defenders to remain vigilant. The Gulls’ strategy was paying off going into the second quarter, as the they kept the game a low-scoring affair at 2–1 in favor of the Jumbos. As the game chugged forward, Tufts’ stellar defensive efforts started to spur rapid counterattacks against an Endicott side that quickly fell apart.
“Credit to our defense for dealing with a lot of really long possessions. It was definitely a very different flow from Saturday,” senior attacker and captain Ben Connelly, said, who converted two goals on three shots in the win.
The defense had excellent communication throughout, which was vital to keeping focus and initiating good shifts during possessions that sometimes lasted up to 50 seconds.
“We call it being a fireman,” Broekmate said. “[Being] able to react and follow up on whatever their teammates [do].”
Much of the energy the team displayed both offensively and defensively came from the Jumbos’ bench, which was extremely vocal and engaged throughout. The Gulls’ sideline was mostly silent.
Coach Casey D’Annolfo was happy to get some of his scout team playing time once the game became out of reach for the Gulls.
“Those guys work really hard during the week, so it’s always great to see them get in,” D’Annolfo said.
Midfielder Aidan Hesse, a first-year, scored an outstanding goal with 2:52 left in the fourth quarter, fighting through six Endicott defenders to fire home a close-range rip.
“A lot of these guys could play anywhere in the country … it’s probably the best scout team I’ve seen in my time here,” Connelly added.
If Tuesday night ended up being a walk in the park, playing on the road against national powerhouse Stevens in the team’s fourth game of the season on Saturday was anything but. D’Annolfo and the Jumbos knew it was going to be a battle for each and every one of the 60 minutes. Stevens held a slim 13–10 lead after an electrifying and high-scoring first half, and the Ducks would maintain that margin with a 17–14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. From there, though, it was the Jumbos’ time to shine: their senior-heavy back line put out a stellar defensive showing, keeping the Ducks off the scoreboard for the final 15 minutes. While the Jumbos had been late on some of their defensive slides throughout the game, their adjustments going into the fourth ended up turning the tables.
“We kind of changed around our entire game plan because we’d been struggling with our slides all game. The adjustments got us to get there without having too much on our plate,” Broekmate said.
The Jumbos scored five goals in the final period to steal a 19–17 victory from the home side. Sophomore Garrett Samuelson, a standout midfielder, had a massive game, tallying two goals and four assists, including the game winner with 2:01 left in the fourth. Junior midfielder Nick Shanks gave the Jumbos an insurance goal with 1:00 to play. Connelly, who scored three goals on a 70 percent shot-on-goal percentage, recognized the importance of the defensive effort in opening up play for the offense.
“Our defense locked it down completely. They had a good clearing percentage which kind of fed us in that fourth quarter,” the Winnetka, Ill. native said.
While the fourth quarter comeback showed great resolve, Connelly wants the team to start faster in its coming games.
“We need to be dialed in from the start and be less worried about making a million plays instead of just making that first one,” Connelly said.
With the win, the Jumbos locked up their first victory of the season against a nationally-ranked opponent, a valuable experience in the competitive NESCAC division.
“It’s good to get that experience on the road, which sets us up for later in the season when we’re gonna have to go on the road and play more good teams,” Broekmate said.
While the future of the program remains as promising as ever, as do the Jumbos’ chances of competing for a national title, Broekmate and Connelly are seasoned enough to know that they must take things one week at a time.
“Right now, the game I’m most excited for is Colby [next week],” Connelly said.
The two NESCAC rivals square off tonight at 7 p.m. in Maine in the Jumbos’ second conference contest of the season.