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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Men's soccer set to begin title defense

The Tufts men's soccer team poses with the National Championship trophy after defeating Wheaton (Ill.) 4-2, on Dec. 6, 2014. The Jumbos look to defend their title this upcoming season.

The men’s soccer team will begin its 2015 campaign in the same position that it ended last season: on top.

After winning Tufts’ first national championship of the 2014-15 academic year last fall with a run in the NCAA tournament that culminated in a 4-2 victory against Wheaton College (Ill.), the Jumbos enter the season ranked No. 1 in the National Soccer Coaches Association (NSCAA) national preseason rankings. Number one or not, the team has been itching to get back on the field to defend its title and to continue the winning culture.

“The squad is definitely eager to get out there and play,” senior and returning All-Conference midfielder Jason Kayne said. “We want to go out there and prove that our run in the NCAAs was not just a one time thing. Everyone is working hard to cement Tufts as a Div. III powerhouse when it comes to soccer.”

Among those most excited to return to soccer is coach Josh Shapiro, who was selected as the National Coach of the Year by the NSCAA and in his fifth year at the helm of Tufts soccer, the most successful season in Jumbo history.

“At the NESCAC schools, we don’t get a lot of time with our guys in the offseason, and you just can’t wait to get back around them,” Shapiro said. “It’s why you coach, it’s why you’re in the profession.”

Although honored by the preseason ranking, the Jumbos know that they must remain humble and focused in order to keep up where they left off last December, according to Shapiro.

“It’s exciting to get the recognition, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “We need to go out and prepare and train and push each other and be great teammates for each other every single day.”

If last season’s experience taught the team any lessons, it is that records and seeds do not matter much once the opening whistle is blown. The Jumbos entered the NESCAC tournament as the top seed after an undefeated 7-0-3 conference record but lost in the first round to eighth-seeded Conn. College. The loss lowered their seed for the NCAA tournament, but the Jumbos responded by becoming the first team ever to win six straight games on the road en route to the title and an overall 16-2-4 record.

“Any team can walk onto the field and beat us, which we saw last year in the NESCAC tournament,” Kayne said. “We learned this as the underdogs going into the NCAA tournament.”

Tufts must move on after graduating a strong senior class whose hard work helped build the culture of the program. Seven graduates left the team, including leading goal scorer and All-Conference forward Gus Santos, first team All-American defender Sam Williams, All-Conference forward-turned-Swiss professional Maxime Hoppenot, starting defender Peter Lee-Kramer and reserves Michael Miele, Kento Nakamura and Kyle Volpe.

“You lose a great core group of seniors who were very influential members in the program for their entire experience,” Shapiro said. "But I think we’ve got great leaders and great soccer players who will demand respect from the younger players and the team returning.”

Kayne echoed his coach’s sentiment regarding moving on and continuing to play at the high standard set by the most recent Tufts graduates.

“This is a tough group of seniors to leave because they developed the culture that currently exists within the team,” Kayne said. “However, every player on the team knows that their role is going to change when the group of seniors leave. There are several players on this team who have played in a lot of NESCAC games and know what it takes to lead this team to success.”

Seven starters from the national championship game return to Tufts this fall. Among them are Kayne, junior and All-NESCAC goalkeeper Scott Greenwood, senior midfielder Connor Brown, senior defender Monil Patel, senior midfielder Rui Pinheiro,junior midfielder Zach Halliday and sophomore defender Matt Zinner. Experienced players also include senior defender Connor Schaible, senior forward Tal Smith and junior midfielder Nathan Majumder, who scored two goals in the title game.

The Jumbos will need the leadership and experience from the returning players to compete at the highest level this fall and remain at the top of the rankings. Joining the Jumbos in the top five are three teams that Tufts defeated in the NCAA tournament last season. Wheaton (Ill.) sits at No. 2, and Messiah (Pa.), a ten-time champion and the victim of a 1-0 Tufts victory in the quarterfinals, opens up the season at No. 3. Tufts also defeated Ohio Wesleyan, who begins the season at No. 5, 3-0 in the semifinals.

The title defense begins on Sept. 8 on the road in a night game against Endicott College before the home opener against NESCAC foe Colby on Sept. 12. Although the only other NESCAC team in the preseason top 25 is No. 10 Amherst, the NESCAC has been one of the toughest conferences in the country year in and year out. Continuity of their style of play will help Tufts remain at the top of the standings. In the NCAA tournament, Tufts started quickly and scored the first goal in each game. That is the style the Jumbos seek to emulate this season too.

“Our experience in the tournament showed us that the first ten minutes of our game can set the tempo going forward,” Kayne said. “If we can dominate play early on and put them on their heels, then I think we will be successful against Colby.”

Overall, the team enters the season with a wave of confidence and motivation to write its own story. To do that though, the Jumbos must play within their system, which they seem to have solidified.

“We have to believe in what we’ve built as a program,” Shapiro said. “We’ve got a fantastic reference point now. We did this then and that worked, so let’s try to replicate that. So hopefully the guys come in confident and believing that our brand of Tufts soccer can allow us to be really successful.”