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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Men's soccer wins NCAA Championship for 4th time in 6 years

The Tufts men's soccer team celebrates its 2019 NCAA Championship win.

After winning national championships in 2014, 2016 and 2018, the men's soccer team (20–2–2) completed its campaign for its first-ever repeat championships, beating Amherst 2–0 in the national championship game on Saturday evening.

The successful weekend cemented Tufts as the preeminent Div. III men's soccer dynasty in the country. Tufts is now the third program in NCAA Div. III history to win four or more national championships. The 20-win season also makes this Tufts team the winningest team in program history.

On Wednesday, the Jumbos traveled south to North Carolina to play in the Final Four at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

After defeating Calvin University in the semifinal on Friday, the stage was set for an epic battle in the final, as Tufts was looking to avenge its regular-season loss to Amherst on Saturday, Oct. 12. On the other end, Amherst was looking to get back at Tufts for clinching the NESCAC Championship at Amherst in the NESCAC post-season.

The championship game had a sloppy beginning, characterized by numerous fouls and throw-ins. Tufts tried to establish its possession-based offense while Amherst played long balls and pressured the Tufts center-backs. 

As the first half went on, two of Tufts’ midfielders, junior Travis van Brewer and senior Brett Rojas, began to dictate the tempo and keep possession in Amherst’s defensive half. The Jumbos took a 1–0 lead in the 25th minute when senior midfielder/forward and co-captain Gavin Tasker collected the ball at the top of the penalty box, took the Mammoths defenders’ tackle in stride and used his left foot to slot the ball off of the right post and into the back of the net. After going down, Amherst turned it up a notch and threatened Tufts with dangerous long balls, crosses from the wings and a remarkable flip-throw.

Even after halftime, Amherst continued to send numbers forward in hopes of getting the tying goal, but the Tufts defense stayed strong and preserved the 1–0 lead. Tufts sophomore goalkeeper Erich Kindermann was called into action when an Amherst player connected on a header off a corner kick. 

In the 73rd minute the Jumbos switched the field to junior midfielder/forward Alex Ratzan on the right wing who delivered a perfect cross that flew just over the jumping Amherst defender and found junior forward Max Jacobs. Jacobs appeared to control the ball with his arm and chest, but a handball was not called. Jacobs scored and the Jumbos went up 2–0 with over 15 minutes to go. Despite their efforts, Amherst was not able to break through the Tufts defense.

With the final whistle, the Jumbos walked off the pitch as national champions for the fourth time since 2014.

After clinching his third national championship, Tasker talked about what it meant for the Jumbos to play and defeat the rival Mammoths.

“It's special — I potentially didn’t think that we’d be in these [championship interview seats] midway through our season when we lost to those guys [Amherst] but it was great to get a second shot at them," Tasker said in the press conference. "They played fantastic today, I can’t really describe it with words right now.”

Twenty four hours before, in the semifinal match, Tufts faced off against Calvin in a repeat matchup of the 2018 final. The first 20 minutes were relatively back-and-forth, as both teams were looking to establish control over the game. Calvin’s first chance of the game came when its right winger cut onto his left foot and curled a shot just over the crossbar from about 25 yards out. Tufts responded with a dangerous corner kick that ended up hitting the crossbar off of the Calvin goalkeeper’s back.

The stalemate was broken in the 24th minute when senior midfielder Zach Lane got the ball at the top of the box, maneuvered his way through several Calvin defenders and beat the goalkeeper to give Tufts the 1–0 lead. About 10 minutes later, Ratzan cut inside from the right wing and used his non-dominant left foot to rip a shot into the top right corner from about 22 yards out, extending the Jumbos’ lead to 2–0. Less than seven minutes later, junior midfielder/forward Mati Cano cut inside from the left wing and curled a shot into the top right corner from about 20 yards out, pushing the Tufts lead to 3–0.

When asked about his goal, which the announcers called "world-class," Cano attributed it to a practice drill that the Jumbos do regularly.

“We do this thing called 'Chivas' and it’s a shooting drill and whenever we do it it’s a great team bonding experience, we’re all yelling we’re all having fun, that’s what gets the crowd going, that’s what gets the boys going, so I just tried to reenact our practice routine and honestly I just hit it as hard as I could," Cano said in a press conference after the game.

Already ahead 3–0, the Jumbos took a more defensive posture in the second half and absorbed the Knights’ offensive pressure. But the Jumbos ended even the slightest hope of a Knights comeback by going up 4–0 when Tasker scored on the counterattack in the 84th minute. The dominant score was an indicator of how well Tufts played in this game rather than a lack of quality from Calvin, as explained by Tufts coach Josh Shapiro.

“We respect Calvin University as one of the premier programs in the country and we’ve developed a really good rivalry with them," Shapiro said in a press conference after the game. "I think they are excellent, we knew we had to be at our best and I would honestly say I thought we were as good as we could be in the first half in getting those goals early knowing that they would have to open up and come at us.”

With the decisive win over Calvin, the Jumbos were able to secure their spot in the championship against conference rival Amherst College.

Shapiro talked about the journey of this team throughout the season.

“We’re so excited to win another championship with this group of guys who fought really hard this year to get us back to this place against some kind of outrageous expectations," Shapiro said. "It sounds silly, but it was a challenging year and we are absolutely thrilled to be in this place as NESCAC champions, as national champions, and as defending national champions.”

Junior midfielder Calvin Aroh took a moment to reflect on what made this Tufts team so special and how they were able to be NESCAC Champions and win their second straight NCAA Championship.

“The one thing I liked a lot about this team was that so many people played a part in it," Aroh said. "I think that was the biggest thing, seeing everyone’s reaction as a collective at the end of the game was something really special.”