No. 1 men’s soccer gears up for start of season

Tufts senior midfielder Gavin Tasker keeps the ball in possession during the match against Amherst at Bello Field on Sept. 29, 2018. Christine Lee / The Tufts Daily Archives

As herds of Jumbos stormed Medford this weekend for the official start of the fall semester, Tufts’ most dominant sports team of last year prepared to once again take the pitch for what they hope to be a 2019 season capitulated with a run for a consecutive NCAA Div. III national title. Coming off of its historic 2018 season, the No. 1 nationally ranked Tufts men’s soccer teamwho was Tufts’ only undefeated team (18–0–3) in the 2018–19 academic year — will once again take the field tonight at 7 p.m. in a home opener against the Framingham St. Rams

It goes without saying that fresh from winning Tufts’ only NCAA title in the last year, the expectations for this year’s men’s team are at an all-time high as they go into a 2019 schedule riddled with NESCAC and non-conference opponents alike. In a national poll conducted by the United Soccer Coaches in the preseason, Tufts was honored as the No. 1 team in the country

Esteemed Tufts coach Josh Shapiro, who is in his 10th year leading the men’s soccer team, spoke about the way he expects his team to manage expectations, mainly by taking the season one game at a time.

“I want us to be thinking about how we’re handling things on a daily basis and looking at the game schedule literally one game at a time,” Shapiro said. “We need to figure out who we are and what we’re capable of, and the only way to do that is by focusing on [each day], and hopefully, we don’t get our vision too far in front of our own feet.”

Fortunately, despite the high expectations, the Jumbos are in luck. Having graduated only four seniors last semester — three of whom were starters — this year’s team contains a bulk of veteran players who have already been battle-tested for NCAA glory. Throughout the entirety of last year’s postseason, which ended in a 2–1 victory over Calvin University to take the national title, the Jumbos allowed only two opposing goals to their 13 scored goals.

Shapiro spoke further about the impact his veteran players have had on the team during the preseason.

“We just have a short period of time to get our group ready, but I think the attitude of the group is really positive,” Shapiro said. “We have a pretty veteran group, so it’s a little easier and we’re encouraging the upperclassmen to teach everything they know down and encourage the young guys to learn up and be proactive with their learning curve. If we can speed everyone’s information retention up a little bit, then we’re gonna be in good shape.”

Included among the veteran players who helped lead the Jumbos to their third national title in five years is senior forward Joe Braun, who led the team in goals last year. Like his coach, Braun also emphasized the importance of taking the season one game at a time.

“Obviously, winning a national championship last year, we really have a target on our backs. Our approach this season is to take it one game at a time, and not looking further ahead then whoever we have next on our schedule,” Braun said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing these last couple of years, and that’s just our best approach to it. Obviously, we want to be there late in the tournament, but we’re not gonna get there unless we win the next game.”

Looking ahead to the first week of games, the Jumbos will travel to face the Williams Ephs — who are one of Tufts’ most formidable NESCAC rivals — on Saturday, following their home opener on Tuesday. Despite falling to Tufts 3–1 last year, the Ephs were accomplished in being one of only nine teams to score against the Jumbos. In 2018, out of Tufts’ 21 contests, a monumental 10 games were shutout victories for the Jumbos.

Needless to say, the Jumbos have a lot to live up to this upcoming season. However, as put by coach Shapiro, the team is confronting these challenges with a great mindset, while also making sure to focus on the task at hand.

“I’m excited about the quality of people in the program. The guys are having a good time, they’re supporting each other, and I think they’re working hard for each other,” Shapiro said. “ I think there’s just kind of a nice, positive, fun spirit to the group. At the same time, they’re focused on getting their work done.”

Building off the energy Shapiro described, Braun also spoke about what he’s excited about this season.

“Honestly, I’m a senior and this is my last year, so I’m just excited to play one more year with Tufts men’s soccer,” Braun said. “This has been a journey for me and my class, and hopefully, we can end our career on a high.”

Shapiro concluded by expressing his own excitement and praise for the team going into what will hopefully be another successful season.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute on the field so far,” Shapiro said. “I can’t wait to be out there as much as possible with a group of guys that are having fun together and working towards common goals.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Joe Braun was a co-captain. The co-captains are Tanner Jameson and Gavin Tasker. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.