So Sweet: Men’s Soccer Into NCAA Sectionals

The Swarthmore men’s soccer team turned in a pair of dominating performances this weekend at Clothier Field, advancing to the sectional round of the NCAA Division III National Championships. The Garnet, seeded fourth in their region, defeated thirteenth seed Albertus Magnus on Saturday, 3-0. Just 24 hours later, Swarthmore beat fifth-seeded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) by the same score. The wins set up a showdown with top-seeded and undefeated Amherst College.On Saturday, Swarthmore addressed concerns of whether they could regain momentum after a disheartening loss to Haverford in the Centennial Conference championship game, answering that question with a resounding “yes.” With a week to reflect and improve after that game, the team regained its focus. According to Head Coach Eric Wagner, “There has been a strong mentality and a definitive sense of purpose for the past week since that loss to Haverford.”As captain Jack Momeyer ‘14 put it, “The biggest thing about not winning the conference was that we have nothing to fall back on for this season, so that has been our motivation going forward.” At the same time, however, Wagner attributed the performance to the team’s high level of fitness, which has allowed it to continue improving throughout the season.  He said, “The team trained extremely well, and the players have taken great care of themselves this season.”

Although Swarthmore did not manage to score in the first half against Albertus Magnus, they left little doubt as to which team was superior. The Garnet outshot Albertus Magnus 10-2 in the first half, holding the visiting Falcons without a single shot on goal in the half. The defensive performance highlighted a trend, according to Wagner.  “We have gotten some outstanding performances from several players defensively lately, and that has proven to be very effective in tournament play.” Momeyer emphasized the importance of determining the flow of the match, saying that, “It shows the other team that the game will be played at your pace, and in your style. As long as we can continue to do that, no team can stop us.”

Captain John Pontillo ‘13 described the mood at halftime as one of confidence, saying that “We directed the flow of the game from the start, and we knew it was only a matter of time until we put one in the back of the net.” In the second half, the Swarthmore attack wasted little time ensuring that the team’s dominance was reflected on the scoreboard. The team scored twice in the first 6 minutes of the half. The first score was credited to forward Joe Keedy ‘14. The 6’5” Keedy helped ensure that his return to the basketball team would have to wait a little bit longer by shooting a ball off of a Falcon defender and into the back of the net. Less than two minutes later, Swarthmore showcased its strong youth presence, as Koby Levin ‘15 headed in a pass from Wyatt McCall ‘16. With the score now 2-0, the stifling Swarthmore defense ensured that the game was all but over. A 67th minute penalty goal by leading scorer Michael Stewart ‘15 made the score 3-0, and allowed Wagner to rest some of his players before Sunday’s game.

While both teams on Sunday had to play their second game in as many days, only visiting RPI looked tired. In comparison, the Garnet again controlled the early part of the game. This time, the team’s first half domination was reflected on the scoreboard, in the form of a couple of goals worthy of being featured in Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays. In the ninth minute, midfielder Noah Sterngold ‘14 shot a firecracker past a diving keeper from behind the 18’, giving the Garnet a very early 1-0 advantage. Sterngold attributed his goal to the team’s “good ball movement,” saying that “We worked the ball around for a good amount of time and so quickly that when Mike [Stewart] found me in the middle, no one was close enough to close me down.”

After Stewart himself found the net in the 29th minute, a 43rd minute goal from Momeyer served as the highlight of the weekend. Assisting Momeyer on the score was defender Geli Carabasas ‘14, who sent in a long, high pass that faded as a golf drive or tennis shot might, landing perfectly about six yards out on the left side of the net, where Momeyer one-timed the ball past the helpless keeper. Momeyer lauded Carabases for the pass, attributing the goal to the strong chemistry the two have developed. “[Geli] is basically a brother to me out on the pitch,” said Momeyer, adding that, “The ball he sent in was exquisite. He put enough on it that the defender had no hope, but he kept it light enough to hold the keeper on his line. I saw that the keeper was poised to pounce on me if I tried settling the ball, so I opted to place it in the corner on my first touch. Definitely the best goal I have ever scored in a competitive match.”

After the game, the Garnet locker room was a mix of joy with a sense that there was more to accomplish. Pontillo said that “For many of us, yesterday’s game was the best and most enjoyable game we have been a part of,” and the team took the time to appreciate how well they played. At the same time, however, the team remained motivated to continue winning. “There is not a real ‘sense of accomplishment’ in this team yet. There is no doubt that we are already focused and highly motivated to continue our postseason challenge,” Pontillo added.

Swarthmore will face its toughest opponent yet in Amherst on Saturday. The Lord Jeffs dispatched Centennial Conference opponent Dickinson on Sunday, 4-0, and the squad appears primed to contend for a National Championship. For their part, the Garnet are excited to be an underdog. “The pressure is all on [Amherst],” said Wagner, “so I expect they will play tight and a bit nervous. If we relax, play confidently, and stay focused and disciplined, it could be another wonderful weekend of soccer for us.” With the Garnet playing their best soccer of the year when it matters most, there is no reason they should not be able to defeat Amherst and continue advancing through the NCAA’s.

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