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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Women's Soccer | Tufts hosts NESCAC tournament, strives to maintain record

For the first time since 2002, the women's soccer team is hosting the NESCAC Tournament at Kraft Field. After winning the regular season championship with a 6-2-1 record (11-2-1 overall), the Jumbos will try to repeat their effort from that year, in which they won the tournament as well.

At 11 a.m. on Saturday Tufts will face Colby, whom it has not seen since it lost to the Mules 2-0 in first game of the season. One school-record ten-game winning streak later, the two will meet again with a lot more on the line. The Jumbos know things will be different.

"We had three starters on the bench that game and we hadn't really played together as a team yet, so we didn't click at all," coach Martha Whiting said, referring to her team's first matchup with Colby. "We didn't play well at all that game, so we are really excited to get them as our draw. We know we can exploit them where they are vulnerable."

The team knows not to take this game lightly, however. Colby, the seventh seed in the tournament, surprised second-seeded Amherst last Sunday, defeating the Lord Jeffs on penalty kicks 4-3 after a scoreless regulation and two overtimes. This is the Mules' first semifinal appearance ever, and their stingy defense should make it difficult for Tufts. Colby, on average, allows less than one goal per game and has only allowed three goals in a game once this year, in a 3-2 loss to Bowdoin earlier this season. Anchoring its defense is junior keeper Liza Benson, who leads the league in save percentage (.882) and is third in goals against average (0.79).

The Jumbos' defense is no slouch itself. Tufts has not allowed three goals in a game all year, and like Colby, allows less than a goal per contest. Junior goalkeeper Annie Ross led the league in shutouts (seven) and GAA (.70), in addition to being named NESCAC Player of the Week on October 10.

Leading the offensive attack for the Jumbos is senior tri-captain Ariel Samuelson. Samuelson is tied with Bates' Kim Alexander for the conference lead in goals (11) and points (25). She is part of a deep offense that will look to exploit the Mules' weaknesses early and often.

The team went fairly easy this week in preparation for the weekend.

"We went hard on Monday, but then Tuesday and Wednesday we went pretty light," Whiting said. "We worked on corner kicks and a little bit on possession, but our main goal was to rest sore and injured bodies. We know what we have to do, so at this point in the season it's more a matter of coming out and doing it."

The fact that Tufts is playing on its home turf will give the team a huge boost. The Jumbos finished undefeated at home, posting a 7-0 record, and hope to keep the string going.

"We know our home record is great and we really feel comfortable playing on Kraft, so that gives us a huge advantage mentally," Whiting said.

Whiting knows that the players will still get some jitters.

"I think there will definitely be some nervous excitement, which is a positive thing," she said. "If we weren't nervous at all, then I think there would be something wrong. Once the first whistle blows, though, all of that will be forgotten."

On the injury front, sophomore Lauren Fedore will, in all likelihood, be available on Saturday, but senior tri-captain Sarah Callaghan is still questionable.

"They are probably available, but I don't know how much time they will get," Whiting said. "If we need them, we can use them, but we aren't counting on it."

In the other semifinal game, fifth-seeded Bates is facing third-seeded Bowdoin, which is the only team returning from last year's semifinals. The Polar Bears have made it to the semifinals every year since the tournament started six years ago, but they have never appeared in the championship game. The winner of Bates-Bowdoin will face the winner of the Tufts-Colby game Sunday at noon on Kraft Field.

"We just have to play hard and play smart, and the rest will come," Whiting said. "We are excited to be playing at home, so now we just need to go out and perform."

If everything plays out as the team hopes, the season will not be over after this weekend. In the players' eyes, however, that is a long way away.