Monday, November 4, 2002
Written by Paul Sweeney

WOMEN'S SOCCER TO HOST NESCAC CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND

MEDFORD The Tufts University Women's Soccer team will host the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) semi-finals and championship game on Kraft Field in Medford this coming weekend (November 9-10). Semi-final games on Saturday feature #1 Tufts versus #5 Connecticut College and #2 Bowdoin versus #3 Williams. Those game times will be determined during a conference call on Tuesday (Nov. 5) morning. The Championship Match is on Sunday at 12 noon. The conference champion earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

It wasn't a simple route to the top for Head Coach Martha Whiting's Jumbos. Tufts entered its final match of the regular season versus Colby on Saturday (Nov. 2) in a four-way tie for first place in NESCAC with Amherst, Bowdoin and Williams. All four had 5-2-1 conference records. Amherst was eliminated from contention for the #1 seed with a 1-1 tie at Trinity on Saturday. With Tufts, Bowdoin and Williams all winning their matches on Saturday to improve to 6-2-1 in NESCAC, a series of tie-breakers was enacted to determine #1.

The first tie-breaker was head-to-head records among the three teams.  They were all 1-1 (Tufts beat Bowdoin, Bowdoin beat Williams, Williams beat Tufts). Next was conference wins, and they all had six.  Then came each team's record against the top four teams, which added Amherst to the mix.  Since Tufts and Bowdoin beat Amherst and Williams tied them, this knocked Williams out.  Then it went back to the beginning of the tie-breaking cycle, and since Tufts beat Bowdoin head-to-head they earned the top spot.

Due to the convoluted nature of tie-breakers, even after all of the scores from Saturday were in the Tufts team didn't know its situation. They were either hosting a first round game the next day (NESCAC, with a mind towards athletes not missing class time, has its playoff first round on the Sunday after the regular season ends on Saturday), or they'd be crowned regular season champs with a week to prepare for the semis. More than 50 members of the team party players, coaches, parents, and friends were waiting together at a reception in the Baronian Fieldhouse near Kraft Field when it was formally announced that Tufts was #1.

"The place went nuts," Whiting said. "It just exploded. People were psyched. It was really fun."

Perhaps it was some even-year magic working for the Jumbos. Two years ago in 2000, Tufts took an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and turned it into an appearance in the National Championship game, which they lost in the closing seconds to College of New Jersey, 2-1. In 1998 Tufts made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and won the New England regional. In between, the Jumbos were 9-5-1 and an ECAC Tournament first-round loser in 1999, and 8-7 as a NESCAC playoffs first-round loser in 2001.

The 2002 Jumbos have a long way to go before they match the accomplishments of the 2000 and 1998 teams, but earning first place in one of the nation's most competitive leagues and hosting the conference playoff tournament is a major accomplishment. Tufts is 10-3-1 overall, including 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. They enter the NESCAC tournament with three straight shut outs.

The Jumbos are a young team, with only four seniors. Sophomore Jen Baldwin (Medway, MA/Medway), a transfer from Johns Hopkins where she led the Blue Jays in scoring as a freshman last year, is atop her team's scoring list again this fall with 14 points on five goals and four assists for Tufts. Junior Jess Trombly (Nashua, NH/Bishop Guertin) also has scored five goals. The defense, with co-captain Cara Glassanos (Hingham, MA/Hingham) at its core and sophomore Meg McCourt (Rochester, NY/Brighton) in the cage, has allowed just 11 goals in 1,285 minutes of play (0.77 goals against average).

"We're a young team, but a team that has really good leadership, not just from the two captains, but from all four seniors, who have been around and have been a huge part of the team for four years," said Whiting, who played goalkeeper at Tufts from 1989-92, was an assistant coach here from 1993-98, and is now in her fourth year as Head Coach. "This team, more than any other team I've seen here, is very athletic, fast and really skillful. From the freshmen right up through the seniors we're extremely deep. I feel like they are all confident in one another. Really, they all feel like no matter who is on the field, that person, or that group of people, is going to get the job done."

NESCAC, which instituted a playoff tournament for the 2000 season, will crown a new champion this weekend. Defending champion Amherst and 2000 champion Middlebury were knocked out in the first round on Sunday (Nov. 3). Fifth-seed Connecticut College (10-4-1) beat Amherst, 2-1, with sophomore midfielder Christa Thoeresz notching the game-winner with just under nine minutes remaining. Williams (11-3-1) defeated Middlebury, 3-0, in the first round, avenging a regular-season loss to the Panthers. Bowdoin (12-2-1) was a 1-0 winner over Trinity on a goal by Rachael Gordon with just 5:11 remaining in the contest.

A NESCAC team has played in the NCAA National Championship Game in each of the last two seasons. Tufts, as mentioned earlier, lost 2-1 at home on Kraft Field in 2000. Amherst lost in last November's NCAA final, 1-0, to Ohio Wesleyan. The NESCAC tournament has sent multiple teams on to the NCAAs in each of the past two years. Again this year, four teams will be competing for the cherished championship and all that in brings.

"Hosting just makes it that much more exciting and special, I think especially for the seniors," Whiting said.

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