Middlebury

Men's Soccer To Challenge For NESCAC Title

November 2, 2010

Top-seeded Bowdoin College will be in search of its first conference title this weekend when the Polar Bears host the final rounds of the 2010 NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship at Pickard Field in Brunswick, Maine. Winners of their last 11 outings, the red-hot Polar Bears continue their quest when they face seventh-seeded Wesleyan in the first semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 11:00 a.m. Following the completion of that match, third-seeded Middlebury will take on fourth-seeded Amherst at 1:30 p.m. The 2010 NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship concludes on Sunday, Nov. 7, at 12:00 p.m.

Bowdoin (12-1-2, 6-1-2 NESCAC) got exactly what it needed on the final day of the regular season. The Polar Bears claimed a 1-0 win at Tufts on Friday, earning the number-one seed in this year's tournament thanks to Williams' 3-0 win against Middlebury. In addition to finishing atop the NESCAC standings for the first time since 2002, Bowdoin established a new program record for consecutive wins - 10 - with the victory over the Jumbos. The Polar Bears ran their victory streak to 11 in an impressive 5-2 decision over Maine rival Bates in Sunday's quarterfinals. Bowdoin's only loss this season came at Middlebury on Sept. 25, a 2-0 setback. Since that outing, the Polar Bears have outscored their foes 37-4 and posted eight shutouts en route to their 11 wins. It should come as little surprise that Bowdoin is atop the league offensively and defensively at this point in the season, but this is the first time ever that the Polar Bears head into the semifinals leading the league in scoring. The Polar Bears are nearly a goal better per game than they were last year, averaging a NESCAC best 2.73 per match, and feature a lethal attack with six players supplying the offensive punch. Leading the way are senior Tim Prior (Georgetown, Mass.) and junior Eddie Jones (Scarborough, Mass.) with six goals apiece, career high numbers for both forwards. As impressive as the offense has been, the defense ranks second among NESCAC squads with a 0.37 goals against average. Senior netminder Dan Hicks (New York, N.Y.) has seen a majority of action in goal for the Polar Bears, owning a league-leading 0.37 GAA and .862 save percentage over 11 starts (8-1-2) with four goals allowed and five shutouts. If Hicks and company can produce two more wins this weekend, Bowdoin will not only tie the program record for victories but will also earn its first NESCAC crown.

Looking to spoil Bowdoin's championship hopes will be seventh-seeded Wesleyan (8-7-0, 3-6-0 NESCAC). A year after finishing atop the NESCAC standings for the first time ever, the Cardinals were fighting for their tournament lives in the 2010 season finale against fellow Constitution State resident Connecticut College. Only with a 3-2, double-overtime victory over the Camels did Wesleyan manage to make the playoffs, drawing defending NESCAC champion Williams in the first round. Down 1-0 to the Ephs with less than 10 minutes to play, the Cardinals rose to the occasion, tying the contest in the 83rd minute and then winning it in the 94th, their second extra-session victory in as many games. The victory was reminiscent of their title run in 2005, as seventh-seeded Wesleyan became the lowest seeded team to ever win the NESCAC championship. If the Cardinals hope to complete the sequel, they will need strong performances in all areas of their game. Bowdoin won the lone meeting of the regular season in Brunswick on Oct. 9, 1-0, and the all-time tournament series is deadlocked at one-all. Wesleyan won the initial meeting in the first round of its run to the 2005 title, while Bowdoin took the 2007 showdown. Heading up an offense of 10 different goal scorers is junior midfielder Steve Paresi (Armonk, N.Y.) with 12 points on two goals and eight assists. Paresi has been a hero as of late for the Cardinals, scoring the OT game-winner against Connecticut College on Friday before assisting on the game-tying goal at Williams on Sunday.

In search of its third NESCAC championship this weekend will be third-seeded Middlebury (12-3-0, 6-3-0 NESCAC). The Panthers now hold the distinction of being the only program to reach the semifinals every year the tournament has been held after Wesleyan dispatched Williams in the quarterfinals on Sunday. Middlebury has not only been tough to beat this season, they've been tough to score upon. The Panthers started the fall with seven straight shutout victories before allowing any goals in what was a 2-1, double-overtime loss at Colby on Oct. 2. Middlebury held the lead atop the standings heading into the final week of play but fell short with a 3-0 loss at Williams last Friday. The Panthers returned to their earlier season form in the first round, producing a 3-0 win over Tufts after scoring three times in the first half. Defense has been a trademark of recent Middlebury squads, and 2010 is no different. The Panthers are third among conference foes in goals against average (0.46), as junior goalkeeper Tim Cahill (South Glastonbury, Conn.) sports a 0.49 GAA with a .825 save percentage and a league-leading nine shutouts while playing nearly every minute of every game in net. Senior back Harrison Watkins (San Francisco, Calif.), known for his late-season heroics a year ago, currently holds the team lead in goals with five. Senior Jake Edwards (Easton, Conn.) and rookie Tyler Smith (Pottersville, N.J.) each sit atop the Panther stat sheet with 11 points on three goals and five assists.

Out to prevent Middlebury from reaching the conference finals for the fifth year in a row will be fourth-seeded Amherst (11-1-3, 5-1-3 NESCAC). The Lord Jeffs had an unusual beginning to the season, going 1-1-3 to start the conference slate with the sole loss - their only one so far this season - coming at Middlebury on Oct. 9, 1-0. Since that setback, Amherst has won its last six games, including its final four NESCAC matches, and outscored opponents by a 14-2 margin. The Jeffs looked convincing in the quarterfinals against Colby with their 14th consecutive victory over the Mules, 3-0. Saturday's second semifinal will feature two teams that have developed some postseason history in recent years. This will be the sixth year in a row that Amherst and Middlebury have faced one another in the NESCAC championship, and each of the previous five games have been decided by a single goal. The Panthers hold a slim 3-2 advantage in the tournament series after ousting the Lord Jeffs 2-1 in the 2009 quarterfinals. The Panthers won their second conference crown over top-seeded Amherst in 2007, and the Jeffs returned the favor at number-one Middlebury a year later for their first NESCAC title. Amherst features an offense that is second only to Bowdoin's among conference teams, scoring an average 2.60 goals per game. The defense also rivals the Polar Bears, edging them for first with a 0.38 goals against average and tying Bowdoin with a league-low six goals allowed. Up front, sophomore forward Spencer Noon (Farmington, Conn.) is back after an injury-shortened 2009 campaign and leads the league in scoring with 11 tallies through 14 games. Senior forward Ian Rothkopf (Harvard, Mass.) is in the midst of a career year on the pitch, as he is second to Noon on his club with 20 points on six goals and a team-high eight assists. In net, junior Lennard Kovacs (Wolfersdorf, Germany) has been stellar once again for Amherst. Posting five shutouts this season, Kovacs is 11-1-2 with a 0.42 goals against average and a .850 save percentage.

2010 NESCAC MEN'S SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP
Semifinals - Saturday, November 6 at Bowdoin
No. 7 Wesleyan at No. 1 Bowdoin - 11:00 a.m.
No. 4 Amherst vs. No. 3 Middlebury - 1:30 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, November 7 at Bowdoin
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.

--courtesy NESCAC--