Men's Soccer | Jumbos to use momentum against Ephs
Williams provides tough test as Jumbos forced to travel
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 07:11
One down, one to go. That’s the motto for the men’s soccer team as it heads into its NESCAC tournament semifinal matchup at Williams. The shimmer of the NESCAC championship game is not enough to make the players lose focus on the game in front of them, especially when it’s a game against the tournament’s top−ranked team.
The last time the Jumbos and Ephs met, the game ended in a hard fought 1−0 win for Williams on Oct. 13. Both teams battled through scoreless play for over 60 minutes before Williams senior midfielder Peter Christman sent a stunning game−winning volley into the back of the net.
Despite the loss, the Jumbos left the game feeling good about their performance against a very strong team. Tufts took 12 shots, and Williams senior keeper Than Finan had to make several diving saves in order to keep Tufts off the board.
However, the Jumbos head into Saturday’s match with something they didn’t have the first time around: momentum.
Going into their Oct. 13 game, the Jumbos had won just three of their first seven conference contests, including disappointing draws against Colby, Trinity and Conn. College. Fast forward three weeks, and the team enters its game against the Ephs on a three−game NESCAC win streak, including its first conference quarterfinals win since 2001.
Senior tri−captain Rafa Ramos−Meyer credits the team’s recent success with the stability and chemistry that comes with playing together over a long season.
“We’re much more committed to our identity as a team and what we’ve wanted to achieve,” Ramos−Meyer said. “We have really started to trust each other when we play and realize we are capable of so much more. Our chemistry has really been great all season, but the longer we’ve been together, we’ve come to know more about each other and that’s really helped us a lot.”
However, chemistry alone does not count for the combined seven goals the Jumbos have scored in their last three games. Sophomore forward Maxime Hoppenot also credits head coach Josh Shapiro’s recently installed 4−4−2 formation, designed to accommodate late changes to the roster.
“Instead of turning teams over in our half or in the middle with the 4−5−1, we have a better chance of turning teams over in their half,” Hoppenot said. “We can just connect on three or four passes and then be on goal.”
The game on Saturday will test the progress and improvement that the Jumbos have made this season, as they look to prove how far they have come since that October loss to the Ephs. Also, they will be cheered on by a number of Tufts fans who plan to take a bus to Williamstown and attempt to mute some of Williams’ typical home field advantage, with team parents sponsoring the trip.
Fan support aside, one notable factor in Saturday’s game will be the absence of reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Gus Santos. The sophomore forward has missed the past three games due to illness, leaving the Jumbos without their second−leading goal scorer.
But in Santos’ absence, numerous players have stepped up. Junior midfielder Scott Blumenthal has shouldered a large part of the scoring burden, netting three goals off the bench in the Jumbos’ past two games.
“Gus is obviously somebody you want to have on the field,” Hoppenot said. “But I think everyone is confident in all 27 people on the team, and different players have done what they’ve had to.”
Santos’ absence does hinder Tufts’ ability to convert opportunities up front, something that has plagued the team all year long. Despite the changes the Jumbos have made over the course of the year, the winner of any soccer game is always whoever can put the ball in the back of the net.
“We need to make sure that we’re imposing ourselves on the game and that we’re taking our chances a little better than we did the last time we played them,” Hoppenot said. “We need all 11 players on the field to play as one.”
All of the preparation both teams have made could be for nothing, if the players can’t conquer the one thing nobody can predict: nerves.
“I don’t know exactly how nerves will come into the picture,” Hoppenot said. “Hopefully we can learn from our quarterfinal loss last year. I think we’re more mentally prepared than we were last year, and I think that will show.”
Both physical and mental aspects of the game will come into play Saturday, and for Tufts to get a win, they will need to be ready to go in more ways than one.