By Danny Priest
It’s NEWMAC Tournament Time for the athletic teams at Springfield College. Thursday, the Springfield men’s soccer team will play host to WPI at Brock-Affleck field.
The Pride (12-4-1) enter the NEWMAC Tournament as the second seed after going 5-1-1 in conference play, whereas WPI (12-2-3) earned the three seed after going 4-0-3. The game will get started at 4 p.m. Here’s five things to watch out for:
Over the past couple of seasons, Springfield and WPI have developed a rivalry and a habit of playing close games. In total, the two sides have played 3 hours, 41 minutes, and 25 seconds of total game time without a goal in regulation or overtime.
The scoreless streak is unprecedented and to find the last time a goal was scored by either side, one would have to go back to 2016. When the Pride visited WPI Keon Haji buried a goal with 11:25 to go in the game to give his crew a 2-1 win.
Since then, nothing. The last three matchups have all gone into double overtime and although there have been close calls for each side, no goals were scored. Thursday night one side will need to find the back of the net if they want to avoid their season coming down to penalty kicks.
Not that they need extra motivation in this game, but Springfield was bounced from the NEWMAC Tournament last season by the Engineers. Springfield was the No. 1 seed and had home field advantage throughout tournament play, but they could not capitalize.
WPI came in and defeated the Pride in penalty kicks in the NEWMAC championship game. The loss costed Springfield their automatic bid to the tournament, although they did still receive an at large bid from the NCAA committee.
For the members of the Pride who were around to experience that last season, the memory and feeling will likely still be fresh in their mind come 4 o’clock.
Not an average three seed
WPI may be the lower seed, but they are a tough opponent and had a very successful regular season. The Engineers actually enter the game with two less losses on the season than the Pride.
The regular season schedule shows what kind of team the Engineers have assembled. They tied Springfield, MIT (the No. 5 seed in the NEWMAC) and Babson (the No. 1 seed in the NEWMAC).
Their only losses came at the hands of Endicott, a consistently solid team that’s always in contention for the NCAA Tournament, and Division II Roger Williams.
The Engineers have had legitimate success this year. They have playmakers on offense and a defense that has allowed only 0.51 goals per game this year. It is not an accident or a fluke that WPI won as many games as they did.
Seniors, seniors, seniors
Springfield is led by first year head coach Tommy Crabill, who has done an excellent job leading the Pride in his inaugural season, but he has been aided by a talented and mature senior class.
Springfield’s leading scorers Christian Schneider (14 points, five goals, four assists) and Brad Deckel (13 points, five goals, three assists) are both seniors and the captains of the team. The defense is led by a senior trio of Xavi Arroyo, Ian Zacharewicz and goal keeper Stewart Frank.
The sixth and final member of the class is Keon Haji, who has been somewhat of a forgotten man this season. Hampered by a lower body injury, Haji has had his playing time limited, but he is still one of the Pride’s biggest offensive threats when he is in the game.
Together, this class has had a load of success for the Pride winning 61 games over their four years and of course winning the first NCAA tournament game in program history. One thing is a given with the group, they will fight to the very end.
All six of them have big game experience, and they will not be intimidated by the big stage of this NEWMAC game. This group won’t go down easy and they provide plenty of production for Crabill and his staff.
Springfield is coming into the game off of a high note. In their season finale, the Pride came back from a 1-0 deficit to defeat Wheaton.
Ian Zacharewicz scored a clutch goal with 1:06 left in regulation to send the game into overtime and then with 2:06 to go in the first overtime frame, Andrew Ma scored to win it for the Pride.
The win was exhilarating, and a display of both the capability of Springfield’s offense and their “never say die” attitude. Surely the team moved on quickly in preparation for NEWMACs, but that was the type of win that can light a team on fire.
Now, the time has come for Springfield to make the run they have been waiting for all season. It all starts on Thursday at 4 o’clock on Brock-Affleck field.
Featured photo courtesy of Reef Rogers