Men's Soccer | Jumbos look to continue upward climb
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 10:09
The Tufts men’s soccer team enters the 2013 season with expectations at an all-time high — and for good reason. The Jumbos proved their ability to compete in the NESCAC last year with a 5-2-3 record in conference, a semifinal loss to Williams in the conference tournament and its first NCAA tournament bid since 1996.
Senior tri-captain Scott Blumenthal insists that last year was just another step for a team on the rise.
“Last year, we were the first Tufts team in 16 years to make the NCAA tournament, and in all of our minds, that was a goal we had, and we reached that,” Blumenthal said. “But we also felt like we had a good enough team to make it further in the NCAAs and the NESCACs, so we’ve set our goals higher now. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think we can definitely be one of the top two or three teams in the conference.”
Though the Jumbos enter the new season with such high expectations, they finished last year with two heartbreaking losses, to Williams in the conference tournament and Vassar in the NCAA tournament. Tufts managed to play Williams to a draw through 110 minutes, but lost in penalty kicks to the Ephs and were denied a chance to play for their first ever NESCAC championship.
The Jumbos followed up that loss with a gutting extra-time loss to Vassar, who won on a penalty kick in the 102nd minute. Blumenthal is confident, though, that the team will only use those losses as motivation this year.
“Those two games are in the back of everybody’s head, but as a team we haven’t discussed them,” Blumenthal said. “I think we’re really looking forward now, and we’re confident if we work hard we can be in the hunt for a NESCAC championship. We’re focusing on taking it one game at a time. Right now, we’re looking forward to Bates, and then we’ll go from there.”
One obstacle the Jumbos will have to overcome this year is the loss of the two captains that led the team last year, defenseman Pat Bauer (LA ’13) and midfielder Rafa Ramos-Meyer (LA ’13).
“It’s going to be a hard transition, because me, [junior midfielder Kento Nakamura] and [Blumenthal] are all new captains, so there is no real continuity there,” junior tri-captain Maxime Hoppenot said. “But at the same time, most of our impact players from the past two seasons are upperclassmen, so I think that helps us out.”
Hoppenot and classmate Gus Santos will control the attack for the third year in a row. Hoppenot was fifth in the NESCAC in both points and goals, with 17 and seven, respectively. Santos, who suffered an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, still managed to chip in five goals and 13 points. Both players, along with classmate Nakamura were named to the all-conference team, the most players for Tufts since 2006.
The team will also look for big contributions from Blumenthal, who was third on the team in goals despite coming off the bench in the majority of games, thanks to a team high .208 shot percentage.
In the back, the loss of Bauer, who started all 17 games last year, will undoubtedly hurt the Jumbos. However, the team returns sophomore defenseman Connor Schaible, as well as junior Sam Williams and senior Luke Booth, who started 13 and 15 games, respectively. All three players will provide valuable leadership for a defense that is hoping to step up its play.
“Our team defense is where a lot of our game comes from,” Hoppenot said. “Being able to press teams and turn them over is where a lot of our game comes from. Our team defense is what we’ve been focusing on.”
The Jumbos also have the fortune of returning senior goalkeeper Wyatt Zeller, who was in the top five in the NESCAC in saves, goals against, save percentage and goals-against average, which was essential for a team that struggled to score goals at times. Zeller, in his last season for the Jumbos, will be an important rock for a defense that will face some turnover. However, Tufts enters the season fully loaded with a crew of four capable goalkeepers who will all compete for time between the pipes.
Despite the number of talented returning players Tufts will have this season, they will be tested once again by the perennially challenging NESCAC, with Williams and Amherst ranked No. 3 and No. 4 in the country, respectively. However, this season will be the first in a long time that Tufts will not be the underdog, as the NESCAC was put on notice by the Jumbos’ strong performances during the season and in the conference tournament last year.
The Jumbos open up their season on Sept. 7 at Bates, before they return to Bello Field for their home opener against Suffolk on Sept. 11.