The men’s and women’s teams soccer provided one of the most thrilling fall weekends ever in Brandeis soccer, as for the first time in the university’s history, both squads qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Tournament and advanced through the first two rounds to the Sweet 16.
Each team got a dramatic win along the way.
The Brandeis men, ranked eighth nationally by D3soccer.com and 17th by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, earned the right to host their first two rounds on Gordon Field by virtue of their 16-2-1 regular season. Coach Mike Coven’s squad didn’t disappoint the crowd of 575 raucous fans in the opener, as they defeated Baruch College, 2-0, on a pair of first-half goals by senior Sam Ocel. Ocel, the University Athletic Association Most Valuable Player, scored both goals in the first 12:16 of the game, and the Judges controlled play the rest of the way.
"Sam has been outstanding all year," said Coven, in his 40th year on the sidelines with the Judges. "His play speaks for itself."
In their second-round matchup, the Judges faced Vassar College, 1-0 winners in overtime against Tufts the night before. The Brewers and Judges battled back and forth for 89 minutes and 30 seconds, with both sides having goals nullified because of offside calls. The clock read 29.4 seconds left in regulation when Ocel delivered again, using his head to redirect a cross from classmate Lee Russo to avert overtime. The goal was Ocel’s ninth game-winner of the season.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Ocel said about scoring such a dramatic goal.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw him, and he was unmarked for whatever reason so I tried to put it in his area and he made a really nice finish," added Russo. The duo have a friendly rivalry on the team’s scoring charts, with Ocel now leading the squad with 13 goals and Russo leading with nine assists.
The Judges are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1984, when they reached the national championship game. Coven also led Brandeis to the 1976 NCAA Division III title, one of only two team national championships in school history.
Brandeis will face Williams College in the next round. The Judges and Ephs will square off at Amherst College at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two squads who both boast long-time head coaches. Williams’ Mike Russo is in his 34th season with the Ephs, having guided them to four Final Four berths and the 1995 Division III title.
Ranked seventh by D3soccer.com and ninth by the NSCAA, Williams (15-1-3) reached the Sweet 16 with a pair of 2-1 wins over Thomas and No. 13 St. Lawrence. The latter win was nearly as dramatic as the Judges’ win over Vassar, as Mohammed Rashid scored an equalizer for Williams with less than 10 minutes left in regulation, while Michael Madding ended the game with 51 seconds remaining in the first golden-goal overtime period.
The teams have one common opponent this season, Babson. Brandeis defeated the Beavers, 2-1, in double overtime on Sept. 19, while Williams were 2-0 victors on Oct. 14. The winner of the Brandeis-Williams match will face the winner of Saturday’s second contest between No. 2 Amherst and No. 19 Swarthmore on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. with a trip to San Antonio, Texas, for the Final Four on the line.
The women’s team, making its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years under head coach Denise Dallamora, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history and improved to 15-4-2. The Judges reached the third round by defeating 21st-ranked Union College, 2-1 in overtime, in their Saturday opener, then handling local rival Lasell College, 3-0, on Sunday afternoon, in games played at Amherst College.
Against Union, a pair of freshmen not known for their scoring helped Brandeis to upset the nationally-ranked Dutchwomen. In the third minute of the game, rookie back Haley Schachter tapped home a rebound after a misplay by the Union defense for her second career goal – her first came with just 1.9 seconds left in the Judges’ final regular-season game. Union equalized in the 26th minute, and after a scoreless second half, rookie reserve midfielder Sarah Isaacson launched what onlookers called “a highlight reel shot”. Her first career goal was “a marvelous arcing blast over the leaping arms of [the Union goalkeeper and into the netting, sending the Brandeis bench into jubilation” 2:56 into overtime.
The Judges met Lasell for the second time this season in the second round after the Lasers stunned 12th-ranked Amherst in their opener.
Six different Brandeis players recorded points, with sophomore Sapir Edalati’s seventh goal of the season in the 13th minute proving to be the game-winner. Schachter and junior Maddie Stein also scored goals for the Judges. Brandeis senior Francine Kofinas had three saves in the first half, while sophomore Michelle Savuto had one in the second as the Judges extended their school-record shutout total to 14.
The Judges advance to the next stage despite not getting any goals from their leading scorer and first-team All-UAA selection, sophomore Dara Spital. They will hope to get a further offensive boost with the return of rookie forward Holly Szafran, the squad’s third-leading scorer, who missed the final five games of the regular season and first two rounds of the tournament to injury.
Up next for Brandeis is SUNY-Cortland, who will face off on the pitch on Saturday, November 17, at 1:30 p.m. at Ithaca College. The Judges and Red Dragons will be meeting for the first time ever. Cortland State (11-4-6) defeated Springfield College, 1-0, in the opening round before playing its NCAA Division III record 10th overtime game of the season in the second round against ninth-ranked William Smith College. After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Red Dragons defeated the Herons, 5-4, on penalty kicks to reach the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Hudson made nine saves in the run of play and stopped the Herons’ second PK attempt to earned the win.
The lone common opponent for the two squads is the Springfield team that Cortland defeated in the opening round on Amanda Margolis’s goal in the 57th minute. Brandeis downed the Pride, 2-0, on September 8, on a pair of goals by Spital in the 31st and 79th minutes.
Brandeis is one of four schools with both of its teams still alive in the tournament, joining Loras (Iowa), Messiah (Pa.) and Wheaton (Ill.). The Brandeis men are the only one of five UAA schools selected to the tournament still playing, All four of the conference’s women’s teams (Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, Washington University and Emory) are still in the running for a national title.
You can follow all the Brandeis action on-line this weekend through any number of media. The men’s games will be videocast from Amherst at https://www.amherst.edu/athletics/jeffcast/jeffcast4 or listen as the crew from 100.1 WBRS-FM will be on the scene (http://fischd.wix.com/wbrs-sports#!cvcvvg/mainPage) . The women’s game from Ithaca will have LiveStats at http://www.sidearmstats.com/ithaca/wsoc/scoreboard.aspx and audio from the Bombers’ radio crew at http://www.vicradio.org/ . There will be updates on our twitter feed, @brandeisjudges, too.