The #15/19 men’s soccer team may have just finished the best Centennial Conference season in program history, going unbeaten with an 8-0-1 record, but records don’t matter when you reach tournament play. And in the Centennial final, the men faltered when it mattered most, falling to rival Haverford 1-0 with the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line. It was the first time in Centennial Conference history that the archrivals met with such high stakes.
As the #1 seed, the Garnet played host to the tournament semifinals and final. In Saturday’s first semifinal, #3 seed Haverford took down #2 seed Dickinson 1-0, striking first with a goal from Ford Bohrmann and hanging on defensively for the win.
In the nightcap, Swarthmore handled #4 seed Johns Hopkins 3-0, effectively ending the Blue Jays’ season. Much like the previous match-up between the teams, the game was much more evenly played than the score would indicate for the majority of the match. Within a period of just 10 minutes, though, the Garnet turned a close match into a blowout.
Between the 37th and 47th minutes, the Garnet struck three times in quick succession. Jack Momeyer ‘14 got things rolling with a goal off a pass from David Geschwind ‘16. After that, Wyatt McCall ‘16 took over, scoring two goals off passes from Momeyer and Noah Sterngold ‘14. McCall’s career game tripled his career goal total, and more importantly, put the game completely out of reach.
The defense held strong, recording the team’s third consecutive shutout. In goal, Peter Maxted ‘14 made two saves to keep the Blue Jays off the scoreboard.
Even if the score was similar, the intensity of the game was not. McCall said, “The conference tournament games were played with much more intensity than any of our regular season games. The stakes were much higher, and we stepped up our effort for both of the games. We have been training all season to make it to the conference title, so when it all mattered the entire team gave their best efforts to win those games.”
The next day, the Garnet and Fords met for the Centennial championship. The match was nothing like the first match between the two, in which Swarthmore jumped out to an early lead and outplayed Haverford for the whole match. This time, the match was a gritty, physical match in which no team really performed much better than the other for most of the time. McCall said the physicality of the match was to be expected. “When the conference title is on the line, the game is bound to become physical on both sides of the ball.”
Someone had to advance, though, and Haverford super sub Bohrmann came through again for the Fords, scoring a stunning goal with just a minute left in the first half. From 20 yards out, Bohrmann thundered a curling shot directly into the far top corner of the net that Maxted had no shot at stopping.
After the goal, the Garnet frantically pushed throughout the second half, but were unable to piece together many scoring opportunities. As the clock ran out, the Fords celebrated their first NCAA bid since 1980, while Swarthmore was left out in the cold.
According to Geli Carabases ‘14, the change in game style reflected less on the Fords than on the Garnet. “The first time we played Haverford we played our style of soccer. We out possessed them and stayed patient. After they scored in the first half we became impatient and got away from what we do best, knock the ball around until we find an opportunity to exploit and attack.”
McCall agreed, saying that “Both [tournament] games were physically and mentally demanding, but I would say that going down a goal late in the first half of the Haverford game made the second half a much more frantic battle. At times it was sloppier than the Hopkins game.”
Despite the loss, the Garnet were in no danger of missing out on further playoff action. Thanks to a strong schedule, excellent record, and high national ranking, Swarthmore received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Monday. While the automatic bid would have meant fewer nerves going into Monday’s bracket announcement, the Garnet were more or less assured of a spot all along, with no real bad losses (as much as losing to Haverford may sting) to blemish their record.
As one of the higher seeds in the tournament, Swarthmore will host first and second matches of the tournament for the fourth time in five years. On Saturday, the Garnet will host Albertus Magnus, champions of the GNAC, at 5 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., Rensselaer Polytechnic, winners of the Liberty League tourney, will play Christopher Newport, an at-large bid from the USA South conference. The winners of the two matches will face each other on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Players disagreed on how important it was to be seeded as a host. While Carabases said, “ We love playing at home. We love Clothier and our fans. Playing at home in November is always a goal of ours, and luckily our play this season put us in a position to host this weekend. We are looking forward to launching our run into the tournament at home,” Sterngold pointed out, “We’ve been excellent all year on the road.” Regardless of the importance, one cannot deny the allure of sleeping in one’s own bed during the tournament.