Men’s soccer enters NCAA tournament with heads held high

The men's soccer game against Brandeis is pictured on Sept. 18, 2021. Cayla Fernandes / The Tufts Daily
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The Tufts men’s soccer program is widely renowned as one of the best in Division III. The team has won four national championships and has made 10 NCAA tournament appearances in its history. In what is always a tough conference, the Jumbos consistently compete for the top spot in the NESCAC. This season proved to tell a slightly different story. In what was an uncharacteristic stretch of games, Tufts finished 7–2–7 overall, with a conference record of 3–2–5. 

Tufts’ record is dominated by ties, due to a new rule in Division III this year.

“One of the downfalls of our season was the new rule that we can tie after 90 minutes and there is no more overtime, whereas last year we won four or five games in overtime; those are all now ties. So I don’t think our record really shows how good we are,” sophomore goalkeeper Erik Lauta said. 

The new rule that cuts off regular season games after the 90-minute mark came in response to previous seasons’ games extending into double overtime and still resulting in ties. 

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The NESCAC saw the Jumbos finish seventh in the conference, securing them a spot in the playoffs. 

The Jumbos faced off against the second-ranked Williams College Ephs in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. In what was a tightly matched contest, the game remained scoreless until the 84th minute when Tufts was awarded a penalty. Senior forward Sean Traynor buried the penalty kick and put the team up 1–0. The lead wouldn’t last long however, as Williams earned a penalty of its own with just 25 seconds remaining in regulation time. The Ephs put the penalty away to send the game into overtime. 

After a scoreless 30-minute overtime period, the game had to be decided on penalty kicks. Lauta did all that he could, but the Ephs prevailed and advanced on penalty kicks 4–3, knocking the Jumbos out of the tournament. This didn’t bode well for Tufts’ hopes of securing a bid to the NCAA tournament, but Lauta spoke to the team morale heading into the selection show.

“I think we are all super excited for the selection show. I think everyone believes we have a really good chance to get the bid, and we all still feel like we have something to prove. … In our minds the season is not over. We’re still going, and we still have something to prove and hopefully we’ll get the chance to prove it,” Lauta said.

 He explained the team felt confident in getting a bid based on their league standings.

“Last week we were regionally ranked fourth. … In NESCAC, there are only three teams ranked above us and last year four NESCAC teams made it, so hopefully the same will happen again” he said. 

Lauta described that the team has been keeping up with regular practices during their lull between the NESCAC playoffs and the national tournament in preparation for the chance of receiving a bid. 

“We’re still training really hard, pretty much as hard as we would be even if we were still playing — even harder, actually, because we don’t have any games. So we’ve been doing lots of fitness … [and] training five, six times a week,” he said.

On Nov. 7, the team received its bid for the NCAA tournament were announced, and the bracket was generated. The team is scheduled to play against UMass Boston on Nov. 12. UMass Boston comes into the tournament with a record of 10–5–4. The two teams have not faced off since 2018, when Tufts won 3–0. 

The Jumbos’ section of the bracket will be hosted by SUNY Oneonta. This marks Tufts’ 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament as they begin another journey to compete for the national title.

Lauta spoke after the selection show about the team’s mentality going into the first game. 

“At this stage of the season, it’s never going to be easy, especially since we are not a top seed, so nothing’s going to be given to us. Every game that we play, from the beginning, is going to be challenging,” he said. 

During their stellar season last year, the Jumbos were able to obtain the top seed in the country and host all of their games in the tournament. Looking for redemption after an upset in the Elite Eight last season, they will try to advance further in the tournament this time around. 

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