Men’s soccer advances to Final Four of NCAA tournament

Senior forward Joe Braun keeps his eye on the ball during Tufts' 4–0 win over Colby on Sept. 21. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily

This weekend, the men’s soccer team advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Div. III tournament with back-to-back wins over Washington and Lee University and Conn. College.

On Sunday, the Jumbos beat the Conn. College Camels in the quarterfinal game by a score of 3–1. The Jumbos qualified for that Elite Eight match following a tight 2–1 overtime victory against the Washington and Lee Generals the day before.

Sunday’s all-NESCAC quarterfinal matchup was a rematch of Tufts’ 2–0 shutout victory over Conn. College on Oct. 19. The Camels have not beaten the Jumbos since 2014.

It took less than two minutes for the Jumbos to get on the board. Coming out of the gate with intense offensive pressure, senior midfielder Brett Rojas found senior midfielder Zach Lane in the middle of the field right outside the 6-yard box. Lane beat out his defender and took a shot that made it past the Camel goalkeeper, putting the Jumbos up by a score of 1–0 with over 88 minutes remaining in regulation.

With the early lead, the Jumbos maintained strong control of the ball, taking back-to-back corner kicks and attempting a shot in the ensuing 10 minutes. Despite being up by one, the Jumbos still maximized their pressure on the Camels, attempting a whopping seven shots in the remainder of the half.

Of course, the Camels also tried to get on the board, attempting two shots in the half. However, sophomore goalkeeper Erich Kindermann was quick to shut down the first shot. In the 25th minute, Bailor Jalloh beat out the Tufts defense and attempted a shot for the Camels, but it went wide right.

The second half started out similarly dominant for the Jumbos. Tufts infielded a corner off the left side of the post, which went right over a set of Conn. College defenders, including the goalkeeper. Senior forward Joe Braun headed the ball up into the air off of the bounce, from which sophomore defender Ian Daly connected the ball into the goal for a 2–0 Tufts lead.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Jumbos scored yet another insurance goal, sealing their fate against the Camels. Off a pass from midfield, senior midfielder/forward and co-captain Gavin Tasker dribbled the ball to the left side of the post. Tasker passed the ball to Lane, who shot the ball directly past the standing goalkeeper, putting the Jumbos up 3–0.

Conn. College scored its only goal of the match late in the second half. However, it was too little too late. The Jumbos advanced to the Final Four with their 3–1 win. In the end, Tufts outshot Conn. College 17–6 in the match, and Kindermann’s first-half save was the only one for the Jumbos in the entirety of the game.

On Saturday, the team kicked off the weekend with a thrilling win over Washington and Lee that vaulted them into the quarterfinals. The final score of 2–1 in the Jumbos favor required 74 seconds of overtime to reach when sophomore midfielder Zach Seigelstein belted in the game-winner.

The game was a hard-fought battle from the first minute to the last. At the end of the first half, Tufts trailed 1–0, and it took until the 62nd minute for them to tie it up. Tasker spoke about Washington and Lee’s opening goal in a press conference after the game.

“That strike was really disheartening,” Tasker said. “But we found ways to get back in the game. Our depth really carried us, and our starters were able to come in with fresh legs.”

The tying goal came off of a corner kick, where Daly was there to knock in a rebound and knot up the score.

The tied score held from there until overtime. Tufts managed to create numerous chances throughout the match, ultimately ending with advantages of 18–12 in shots and 8–2 in corners. 

Coach Josh Shapiro spoke in a press conference after the Washington and Lee game about his team’s performance.

“We looked like the team more likely to win, but we were still getting pushed in the other direction,” Shapiro said. 

While the Generals were able to deflect many of these chances, the momentum from the Jumbos’ opportunities was enough to quickly carry them to the dramatic overtime game-winner in the 92nd minute. Seigelstein spoke about the goal, his first in the postseason thus far.

“The ball got to [senior midfielder/defender] Drew Stern, and he beat about four players,” Seigelstein said. “I just tried to get the ball on target, and I was fortunate that it went in.”

Shapiro is now in his 10th season and is in the midst of his sixth NCAA tournament appearance, vying for his fourth title with the Jumbos.

“I thought it was a great battle, a great example of what NCAA division III soccer should look like,” Shapiro said.

Ultimately, the win was huge for a Jumbo squad looking to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament. Lately, they’ve been riding a wave of tough yet decisive matches, with four of its past six games being decided by just one score. 

“I thought our guys responded really well, it’s very very hard to come back in tough games like this,” Shapiro said. “We had a lot of character and a lot of resolve.”

Shapiro referred to the comebacks and resolves as of late, using it as an indicator of what will hopefully be a future success for the Jumbos.

“We’ve been in situations where we’ve had to come back, especially of late,” Shapiro said. “Our ability to come back is a big part of who we are. We hope it can help us carry forward.”

With the Elite Eight win over Conn. College, Tufts will advance to the Final Four in Greensboro, N.C., against a familiar foe — the Calvin College Knights. Last year, the Jumbos concluded their phenomenal, undefeated 2018 season with a 2–1 victory over the Knights in the NCAA championship game.

Kickoff against the Knights is set for 7:45 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6. Immediately prior to the Jumbos’ game, the Amherst Mammoths will battle the Centre College Colonels in the other semi-final game. Amherst remains the only NESCAC team to beat Tufts since 2016.