When neither the men’s or women’s soccer teams earned a spot in the Centennial Conference playoffs, it seemed that the chances of Swarthmore soccer teams competing in the NCAA tournament were nearly extinguished. In somewhat shocking selection shows however, both teams earned at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Both teams also made the most of those opportunities this past weekend, showing that they clearly deserved those spots in the field of 64 teams. Women’s soccer started off their tournament with a 1-0 overtime win over No. 15 Arcadia University before falling 1-0 to No. 25 Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Men’s soccer remains standing as one of the last sixteen teams in the nation thanks to a pair of penalty shootout wins over nationally ranked opponents at the Virginia Beach Sectional.
In a closely contested match on Saturday night, the women’s soccer team faced off against the Arcadia University Knights, the M.A.C. Commonwealth tournament and regular season runners-up. Thanks to the stifling backline of the Garnet, led by First Team All-Centennial selection Eleonore Moser ’20, the Garnet limited an Arcadia offense which averaged eighteen shots per game to just eight shots, with only three of them being on target. The Garnet nearly went ahead in the ninth minute as Moser rattled the woodwork with a shot off a corner kick. The game settled down from there with chances few and far between for both teams. The Garnet had a couple more chances near the end of regulation with Brittany Weiderhold ’20 forcing a save out of the Knights goalkeeper. With the game scoreless after 90 minutes, they headed to golden-goal over time, meaning that the first team to score would win. Sophia Stills ’21 had a chance to win it in the first minute of overtime, but her shot was saved by the Arcadia goalkeeper. Only five minutes later, it was Stills again creating for the Garnet as she was drew a foul in the box to give the Garnet a penalty. Maddy Carens ’20 calmly stepped up to the spot and put the Garnet into the second round with her right foot, scoring her third goal of the season in the process.
The Garnet then had to face sectional hosts Carnegie Mellon on Sunday night in their second game of the weekend. Unfortunately, this time it was the Tartans who came up on the winning side of a 1-0 game. The Tartans outshot the Garnet 13-4 while also earning three corner kicks to the Garnet’s zero. In the seventeenth minute Weiderhold forced a save out of the Tartan’s keeper. It was Carnegie Mellon who were able to break through in the 29th minute however, thanks to a beautifully played possession in the box that ended with Jocelyn Mayer slotting a shot home past a diving Chantal Reyes. The Garnet had a chance to equalize in the 68th minute, but Lizzie King was denied. Ultimately the Garnet fell, but it was a successful season nonetheless. They finish the year 13-6 with four All-Conference selections in Moser, Stills, Weiderhold, and Sydney Covitz ’20. This marked their sixth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, and their fifth straight in which they have won at least one game.
Men’s soccer, making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2012, showed their mettle in winning a pair of penalty shootouts to emerge as sectional champions and advance to the round of 16. Their Cinderella story began with a win over No. 17 Roanoke in a chippy game that saw seven total cardings. All-Centennial striker Bless Tumushabe ’23 put the Garnet ahead in the 39th minute thanks to a great run and and even better shot which slipped in off the hands of the Maroons’ keeper. But, less than a minute later, Roanoke found an equalizer as Woojin Shin ’21 was dispossessed inside the Garnet end and Luca Kuettel found himself one-on-one with Garnet keeper Max Kral ’23, beating him low to the right side. The Garnet went back on top in the 60th minute as Omri Gal ’20 negotiated four defenders before finding a window and firing a shot into the bottom corner to put the Garnet up 2-1. That lead would last into the 84th minute before a perfectly played corner gave Kral no chance to make a save on a first time volley into the top corner. Tied 2-2 at the end of the regulation, the game headed to golden goal overtime. In the second period of overtime, the Garnet appeared to have earned a penalty as Zach Viscusi was taken down from behind as he ran clear on goal, earning Roanoke’s Tim Leuenberger a straight red card. The ball was spotted on the eighteen yard line however and Gal’s subsequent free kick was blocked by the wall. Both teams were content to let the clock run down and head to a shootout. The Garnet converted all four of their opportunities, with Conor Gill ’21 scoring the game clincher for the Garnet, while Kral made two huge saves to send the Garnet into a Sunday afternoon showdown with hosts No. 23 Christopher Newport.
While the Roanoke game saw its fair share of offensive fireworks, the sectional final was more of a defensive match which also saw its fair share of bookings with six yellow cards awarded. The centre back pairing of Harry Nevins ’22 and Ben Lau ’22, both All-Centennial selections, helped keep the Captains offense contained while Kral made five saves on the shots that slipped through. Similarly, the Garnet offense was kept in check by the Captains backline. After having played 110 minutes of soccer the day before, the Garnet went the distance again with regulation and overtime both ending with no scores on the board. Thus, the Garnet headed to a shootout with a spot in the “Sweet 16” on the line. Once again, Kral made two huge penalty saves while the Garnet converted three of their first four opportunities from the spot. Jason Meuth ’21 stepped up to the ball with the final shot in the fifth round and the chance to win it for the Garnet. He sent the keeper the wrong way and slotted the ball home before being mobbed by his teammates. At some point in the postseason, games are no longer about winning, per se, but instead about staying alive. The Garnet embraced that philosophy this weekend.
Thanks to geographical considerations, the Garnet earned the right to host one of four NCAA Regionals this weekend, comprising two round of 16 games and one quarterfinal game. They will take on No.18 Connecticut College on Saturday at 1:00 p.m., the alma mater of coach Eric Wagner. The winner of that game will play the winner of No. 5 Tufts vs. No. 11 Washington & Lee on Sunday.