Men's Soccer Battles For NESCAC Crown - Watch Live!

November 4, 2009

Wesleyan University will look to earn the program's second conference crown this weekend when the top-seeded Cardinals host the 2009 NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship at Jackson Field in Middletown, Conn. The action begins on Saturday, Nov. 7 with Wesleyan taking on sixth-seeded Middlebury in the first semifinal at 11:00 a.m., followed by fourth-seeded Bowdoin battling second-seeded Williams at 1:30 p.m. The 2009 NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship wraps up on Sunday, Nov. 8, with the final commencing at 12:00 p.m.

Everything fell into place for Wesleyan (11-0-4, 6-0-3 NESCAC) to finish atop the NESCAC standings for the first time in program history. Heading into the regular season finale last Friday, the Cardinals were tied with Williams for the top spot in the conference standings, and although the two teams had played to a 1-1 draw in the season opener all the way back on Sept. 12 it was the Ephs who had the advantage thanks to the next tie-breaker, conference wins. Middlebury's 1-0 victory over Williams combined with a 2-0 road win by Wesleyan gave the Cardinals the number-one seed and home field advantage throughout this year's tournament. Wesleyan rolled past Colby in the quarterfinals on Sunday, 5-0, as the Cardinals extended their school-record unbeaten streak to 15 games and earned their conference-best 11th shutout, also a single-season record. The Cardinals enter the weekend having not allowed a goal since a 3-2 victory at Western Conn. St. on Oct. 14, a span of five games. It should come as no surprise then that Wesleyan leads the league defensively this season with a 0.31 goals against average, having given up only five markers through 15 outings. Rookie goalkeeper Adam Purdy (Montclair, N.J.) has been stellar for the Cardinals during his rookie season, as he leads the NESCAC with a 0.32 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. While the defense has been impressive, the offense has managed to produce when needed, ranking fourth overall in the conference. Fourteen different players have tallied for Wesleyan this season with the tandem of senior forward Keisuke Yamashita (Yokohama, Japan) and freshman forward Noah Schlesinger (Richmond, U.K.) leading the way with four goals each.

If any team knows the pressure that the top seed faces, it's sixth-seeded Middlebury (9-4-2, 4-3-2 NESCAC). A year after they knocked off top-seeded Amherst for the 2007 NESCAC championship, the Panthers earned the number-one seed for the first time in program history in 2008 - only to be knocked off themselves in the final by Amherst. Middlebury gained a bit of revenge in the quarterfinals by ousting the defending champion Lord Jeffs in a hard-fought 2-1 win. The victory preserved the Panthers' streak of semifinal appearances, as only Middlebury and Williams have reached the round of four in every year that the tournament has been held. The Panthers head into this weekend with wins in five of their last six outings. The lone loss, however, came at the hands of the Cardinals, a 2-0 setback in Middlebury on Oct. 18. The only meeting between these two squads in tournament history came during the first round of the inaugural NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship back in 2000. That year, Middlebury came away with a 3-1 win en route to the Panthers' first conference crown. Statistically this season, Middlebury is in the middle of the pack, ranking seventh in goals per game (1.33) and fifth in goals allowed (0.84). Like the Cardinals, the Panthers have spread the ball around with nine individuals collecting a total of 20 goals. Juniors Carson Cornbrooks (Williston, Vt.) and Harrison Watkins (San Francisco, Calif.) pace Middlebury with four goals apiece, with Watkins tallying three of his four goals last week - including the game-winner in the final minute of play during Sunday's quarterfinal victory at Amherst. In net, sophomore Tim Cahill (Glastonbury, Conn.) has played every minute of every contest so far this season, posting a 0.84 goals against average, a .790 save percentage, and five shutouts.

While the first semifinal may be a bit of a defensive struggle, the second match on Saturday may prove to be a shootout when the top two offenses in the conference collide in the form of second-seeded Williams (12-2-1, 6-2-1 NESCAC) and fourth-seeded Bowdoin (11-3-1, 5-3-1 NESCAC). For the Ephs, their 40 goals through 15 games are the most heading into the conference semifinals since 2003, while the Polar Bears' 35 tallies in 15 contests are the most since 2005. Williams has been one of the most successful programs in playoff history, winning five of the first seven NESCAC titles and owning a 13-3-2 record in tournament play. But the Ephs' last league title came in 2006, as they needed penalty kicks to claim the championship after playing to a scoreless tie with Middlebury and they have not reached the final since. This season, Williams opened up with the aforementioned tie to Wesleyan before rolling to eight straight victories. The Ephs looked primed to claim the number-one seed before hitting a snag against Trinity on Oct. 11 with their first loss of the season, 3-0, and the 1-0 setback at Middlebury on Oct. 30 put the top seed just out of reach. Williams rebounded in the quarterfinals on Sunday though with a 3-0 win over a challenging Connecticut College squad. Of the Ephs' 40 goals so far this fall, 30 have come from four different players. Junior forward Charles Romero (Mansfield, Mass.) leads the NESCAC in scoring this year with 10 goals and six assists for 26 points, as six of his 10 tallies have proven to be the game-winner for Williams. Following Romero closely is classmate Gason Kelly (Hingham, Mass.) with six goals and a league-leading 12 assists for 24 points. Rounding out the Ephs' sharpshooters are seniors Pierre Meloty-Kapella (Redwood City, Calif.) and Connor Smith (Yardley, Pa.), each with seven scores.

The Polar Bears will be in search of more than just their first win against the Ephs since 2004 this Saturday. During the lone meeting of the regular season on Oct. 17 in Brunswick, Bowdoin held a 2-1 advantage over Williams with less than 10 minutes to go. The Ephs managed to battle back and tied the match moments later before they went on to win in overtime for a 3-2 final. The setback proved to be the only loss for the Polar Bears in their last eight games, as they have put together a 6-1-1 record over that span. Unlike the other three teams participating in this weekend's championship, Bowdoin is still looking to claim its first league title. The closest the Polar Bears have come occurred in 2003, their lone final appearance in tournament history, when Bowdoin was dealt a 1-0 setback to Williams. Other than the 2003 title meeting, these two squads have faced each other in the conference playoffs only one other time, a 3-0 win for the Ephs in the 2001 semifinals. This past weekend, Bowdoin advanced to the semifinals for the second time in three years with a 3-0 victory against fifth-seeded Trinity. Heading up the Polar Bear attack has been sophomore midfielder Nick Powell (Enfield, N.H.) with a team-leading seven goals and four assists for 18 points. As impressive as the offense has been for Bowdoin this season, the defense has been equally impressive, ranking second in the NESCAC with a 0.52 goals against average. Netminder Dan Hicks (New York, N.Y.) is just behind Wesleyan's Purdy among conference keepers with a 0.65 goals against average, an .846 save percentage, and six shutouts. The junior helped his own cause during a 2-0 win at Trinity on Oct. 24, scoring his first collegiate goal on a 70-yard free kick to seal the win for the Polar Bears.

Semifinals - Saturday, November 7 at Wesleyan

No. 6 Middlebury at No. 1 Wesleyan - 11:00 a.m.
No. 4 Bowdoin vs. No. 2 Williams - 1:30 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, November 8 at Wesleyan
Semifinal Winners - 12:00 p.m.

-- courtesy NESCAC --