Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TUFTS WOMEN'S SOCCER TO PLAY IN NCAA FINAL FOUR THIS WEEK

MEDFORD – Despite what Lindsay Garmirian (Amherst, MA/Amherst) told her family, they went ahead and scheduled Thanksgiving dinner at their house as usual this year. With the NCAA Division III Women's Soccer Tournament "final four" scheduled for November 25-26 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Garmirian had warned them that she wouldn't be home for the holiday. She expected to be in Greensboro with her Tufts teammates playing for the national championship, and that's exactly where the team will be.

"Instead of canceling dinner, they are just eating at 11:00 AM and then most of them - mom, dad, my sister, my grandma, my uncle - are flying down for the games," said Garmirian, a senior tri-captain.

In fact, many family members and fans of the Jumbos will either abbreviate or skip their holiday traditions in order to join the team in Greensboro. Tufts will play The College of New Jersey (21-0) in the first semi-final on Friday (Nov. 25) at 11:00. The University of Chicago (18-2-2) and Messiah College (20-0-1) will play in the other national semi-final at 1:30 PM. The winners will meet for the national championship on Saturday (Nov. 26) at 1:00 PM.

"This is what you dream about," senior tri-captain Sarah Callaghan (Northborough, MA/Algonquin) said. "You play the game to have an opportunity like this. Going to the final four is one of those things that you always talk about, but when it actually happens, it's hard to comprehend. It doesn't sink in right away. We are not afraid of playing against the best teams in the country. We wouldn't have made it this far if we didn't deserve to be there. Saying that we're excited is an understatement, but we're not content with just getting there."

Tufts earned its ticket to Greensboro after a dramatic weekend of play in the NCAA Sectionals at Oneonta State University in New York. Tufts trailed Wheaton College 2-0 at halftime on Saturday, then staged a prolific rally with five goals in the second half to take a 5-2 victory against their New England rivals. The match was essentially for the NCAA New England title, which Tufts won for the third time including 1998 and 2000.

"(Coach Martha Whiting's) halftime speech was about the need to believe in ourselves as a team and remembering that we had scored three goals on (Wheaton) during the regular season," Garmirian said. "She told us that in order to win we had to know we could do it and that if anyone was hanging their heads out there that she would take them out immediately."

 

Tufts, which re-warmed up at halftime on a cold day, got two goals in the second half by senior tri-captain Ariel Samuelson (Newton, MA/Newton North) and single tallies from senior Lydia Claudio (Woburn, MA/Open Bible Academy), sophomore Martha Furtek (East Falmouth, MA/Falmouth) and sophomore Lauren Fedore (East Lansing, MI/East Lansing).

 

The amazing comeback advanced Tufts to the NCAA quarterfinals and a match with the host Oneonta State Red Dragons. Despite being out-played for most of the game, a Garmirian goal gave Tufts a 1-0 lead and the game was tied at 1-1 after regulation and two 10-minute overtimes. The match – and the trip to Greensboro – would be decided in a penalty kicks shootout.

 

The first three shooters on both sides scored and the shootout round was tied at 3-3. The Jumbos took the lead 4-3 when Garmirian converted her attempt. The first miss came on Oneonta's fourth kick when the ball sailed wide right. On the ensuing kick for Tufts, which would have won it, the Oneonta keeper came up with a diving right-hand save to keep the Red Dragons alive. The next Oneonta player stepped up with a chance to tie the score and force extra kicks. She looked to go low to the right side and was denied by Tufts junior keeper Annie Ross (Newton, MA/Newton South) and the game was over.

 

"Going into the shootout, we were all very confident in ourselves as shooters and in Annie," Claudio said.

 

The result goes down as a 1-1 tie, giving Tufts a 15-3-2 record. However, it was probably the most significant tie in Tufts Athletics history. A large group of Jumbo fans who made the trip to upstate New York joined the celebration on the field.

 

"The fans were a huge factor throughout the weekend," Garmirian said. "There was constant cheering for Tufts even when we went down 2-0 against Wheaton. It definitely pumped us all up and kept us going." 

 

Tufts will now make its second appearance in the NCAA "final four." The Jumbos hosted the event in 2000 at Kraft Field. They defeated Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the semi-finals, 1-0 in overtime. In the championship game against College of New Jersey, the Lions scored with just three seconds left in regulation to take a 2-1 win for the national title.

 

"I think everyone feels that if we play our best soccer that we can compete with anyone," Callaghan said. "We really just need to focus on what we do, how we play, and not worry about what we can't control.  Even though we were not on the team in 2000 when TCNJ beat Tufts in the last three seconds, we have heard the stories from teammates in years past and want to beat them for the sake of the whole program."

 

The team's 15-3-2 record entering the "final four" is the most wins by the squad since the 2000 season. They've scored 39 goals in the 20 games and allowed 16 with nine shutouts, one shy of the team record. Samuelson's 14 goals and 32 points this season are second all-time to Lisa Raffin's 15 goals and 41 points in 1981. Seniors Claudio (5 goals-3assists-13points), Callaghan (2-8-12), Garmirian (5-0-10), along with Furtek (3-4-10), are the team's leading scorers. Ross, who has played every minute in goal this season, has a 0.77 goals against average and .866 save percentage.

 

The Jumbos have an excellent 8-3-3 record in NCAA Tournament play. This is their fourth appearance in the 13 seasons since the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) lifted its ban on post-season play by teams in 1993. After losing their season-opening game this fall to Colby, they went undefeated for the next 11. Since losing the NESCAC championship game to Bates, they have advanced through four NCAA Tournament rounds. Now they find themselves in position to play for the first NCAA team championship in Tufts history.

 

"We all feel we really deserve to be there," Claudio said about the "final four" appearance. "We've proven by our record, season, and playoff results that we are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the nation.  But beyond stats and numbers, we're just teammates and fighters who love the game and won't settle for anything less than giving it everything we have."

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