Men’s Soccer Undone By Penalties against Cardinals

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Men’s Soccer Undone By Penalties against Cardinals

By Andrew Rigas

Leading up to the matchup between Middlebury and Wesleyan in the semifinal, Head Coach Dave Saward predicted that it would be a very even contest. He was correct, and after no score in regulation and two overtimes, the Middlebury men’s soccer team fell to Wesleyan by penalty kicks (5-4) in the NESCAC tournament semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 7. The loss ended the Panthers’ season when they were not granted an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals came out with a lot of confidence after upsetting previously undefeated Amherst looking to knock off the highest-seed remaining in the NESCAC tournament for the second straight game, and possessed the ball early on by moving the ball well.

In the 18th minute, the Panthers moved into the offensive end and Daniel O’Grady ’19 played a little chip to Greg Conrad ’17. Conrad gave it right back on a lead pass into the box, and O’Grady cut into the middle and fired a low shot that Wesleyan goalkeeper Jack Katkavich pounced on. Four minutes later, Adam Glaser ’17 attacked from left to right, using his speed to draw a foul and set up a free kick. Glaser lined up the kick and sent it past Wesleyan’s wall to the right side, but Katkavich dove and corralled the shot to keep the game scoreless.

Off another Wesleyan foul in the 27th minute, Conrad’s header off the free kick was stopped but rebounded to Kyle Moffat ’19 who got his head on it. It looked like Moffat had scored the game’s first goal, but Wesleyan’s Charlie Gruner cleared the ball off the goal line to prevent the goal. Wesleyan had a chance of their own less than a minute later, but Max Jones’ chip sailed over the bar.

Neither team could separate itself from the other as the game continued to be wide open in the second half. Both the Panthers and the Cardinals created numerous opportunities but could not put the ball in the net. Glaser and Conrad both missed just wide, and Wesleyan’s leading scorer Chris Kafina came close to breaking the deadlock as well. As tension rose on the field and in the stands, the game remained scoreless and the teams needed overtime to settle.

Deklan Robinson ’16 almost ended the game in the 96th minute when he rose up to head a corner kick that went just to the right of the goal.

Fatigue started to show in the second overtime period when the Middlebury defense sloppily let Adam Cowie-Haskell get free for a one-on-one with Panther goalkeeper Greg Sydor ’17. Sydor was able to deny Cowie-Haskell to bail his defense out, and had to do so again less than three minutes later when Kafina beat the exhausted Middlebury side. Sydor made the save, keeping the score 0-0 and forcing a penalty shootout to decide who would advance to the NESCAC championship game.

In front of Middlebury’s largest and loudest home crowd this season, Kirk Horton ’17 took Middlebury’s first shot and sent it over the bar. Brandon Sousa knocked his in the opposite direction of the diving Sydor and put Wesleyan ahead 1-0. Robinson got Middlebury on track, tying the score, but Gruner quickly responded, just beating the outstretched Sydor. Down 2-1, Tom Bean ’17 brought the Panthers even again with his penalty kick.

Then Sydor stepped up again, making a diving save on Hans Erickson’s shot to keep the score even, or so it seemed. The line judge ruled that Sydor left his line early and awarded Erickson another attempt, which he made to put Wesleyan up by one again.

“In 31 years, I have never seen a retake,” Saward said. “It was a very questionable decision. To me it was a great save.”

Glaser, Kafina and Andres Chamorro ’16 all scored, so with the score tied, it came down to Dylan Hoy against Sydor. Hoy chipped his shot right down the middle, beating Sydor who dove off to the side.

With the win, the Cardinals advanced to the championship, but fell to Bowdoin there, as the Polar Bears won their second NESCAC title in a row.

The loss left the Panthers hoping for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament to continue their season when the committee announced the field on Monday, Nov. 9. Middlebury did not get a bid, and they ended their season with a 13-2-2 record, while Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts will represent the NESCAC in the NCAA tournament, the latter two as at-large selections.

“This is one of the very best teams I have coached here,” Saward said. “They captured the real essence of what it means to be on a team. They worked hard and supported one another throughout the whole year, and every single member of the squad impacted the outcome.”

Although ultimately a disappointing way to end the season, the 2015 season will be in the record books for a number of reasons. The Panthers tied the program’s single game goal record with 10 against Green Mountain State.  They broke the 17-year old season goal record by scoring their 46th goal of the year against Trinity in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Adam Glaser set both the single season and career assist records with 14 assists this year, twice as many as any other player in the NESCAC, and 23 on his career. Entering his senior season, Glaser will need 16 points to break Kyle Dezotell ’03’s career points record of 90.

Robinson, Chamorro, Tyler Bonini ’16, Andres Rodlauer ’16 and John Lower ’16 will all graduate this spring. Robinson’s started 57 games in his four career at Middlebury, scoring seven goals and assisting on 6 while playing defensive back for a defense that conceded eight goals in 17 games this season.

“They have been the foundation of the team’s success, and will leave a legacy of excellence both on the field and in the classroom that will inspire those that follow,” Saward said. “We will miss them all.”

The Panthers will have nine players who started at least ten games this year returning for the 2016 season, including Glaser, Conrad, Horton and Bean, who started all 17 games this season.

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