Tuesday, November 1, 2005

WOMEN'S SOCCER WINS NESCAC REGULAR SEASON TITLE

MEDFORD The Tufts University Women's Soccer team will host the semi-finals and championship match of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) this weekend after winning their second regular-season title. Tufts, 11-2-1 overall, finished 6-2-1 in NESCAC along with Amherst College. The Jumbos won the title based upon their 3-1 victory against the Jeffs on September 24.

Tufts will play Colby College (7-2-5, 3-2-4 NESCAC) in the first NESCAC semi-final on Saturday at 11:00 AM. The Mules are the seventh seed in the tournament, but upset #2 Amherst Sunday on penalty kicks, 4-3, after a 0-0 tie. Bates (11-3-1, 5-3-1) and Bowdoin (10-4-1, 6-3) meet in the other semi-final on Saturday at 1:30 PM. The #3 Polar Bears defeated #6 Middlebury, 5-1, and the #5 Bobcats defeated #4 Williams, 1-0, in the first round on Sunday. The NESCAC championship match is scheduled for Sunday (Nov. 6) at 12:00 PM.

"This is a new season," Tufts Head Coach Martha Whiting said. "The regular season is over and the post-season has begun.  We are excited about our draw for the semi-final.  Colby beat us at the very beginning of the year and I know the girls are psyched about having another shot at them.  That being said, there are four very competitive, very talented teams competing for the NESCAC championship.  We just need to focus on playing our best one game at a time.  We've taken that approach all year and it has worked for us."

All games will be played on Tufts University's Kraft Field, a gift to the school from New England Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft and his family in the 1980s. Son Dan Kraft is a 1987 graduate of Tufts. The site was the host of the 2000 NCAA Division III "final four" in 2000 when Tufts played in the national championship game.

"The home field advantage is huge for us," senior tri-captain Ariel Samuelson (Newton, MA/Newton South) said. "We are 7-0 at home and plan to make it 9-0  by the end of the weekend."

Tufts enters the tournament after one of the best regular-seasons in the program's 27-year history. After losing their season-opener against Colby, 2-0, on September 10, Tufts won 10 straight games and went unbeaten in 11 games before a stunning 1-0 loss at Wesleyan on October 26 ended the run. During the stretch, Tufts had victories over #13 Wheaton (3-2), #15 Middlebury (3-0), #23 Bates (2-1 in overtime) and #20 Bowdoin (3-0). The tie came against #24 Williams, 0-0. The 10 straight wins broke a 26-year old team record that was set originally in 1979.

Unranked to start the season after a 7-4-3 campaign and first-round NESCAC Tournament loss last fall, the Jumbos quickly gained notice with their early-season wins against some of New England's top teams. Tufts entered the national poll at #15 in late September and also took over the top spot in New England. By October they were into the national top 10, moving as high as #6. Tufts was #7 in the most recent national poll, released on October 25.

"Much of our success this year is due to great team chemistry both on and off the field," Whiting said. "All of the players respect and like one another and as a result, they feel a sense of commitment to each other that inspires them to play hard every time they step onto the field. We also have a crew of very good players. In the end, I believe that if you have great players then the team will do great things."

The Jumbos are the second-ranked team defensively in NESCAC. They've allowed just 10 goals in 14 games heading into the tournament for a 0.70 goals against average. Junior goalkeeper Annie Ross (Newton, MA/Newton South) leads the conference in goals against average with the 0.70 mark, having played all of the team's 1,293 minutes. She's also third in the league with a .867 save percentage.

The play of the backs in front of Ross on defense has been equally important. Tufts defenders Joelle Emery (Bedford, NH/Derryfield School), Jen Fratto (Waltham, MA/Waltham), Annie Benedict (Millburn, NJ/Millburn) and Jessie Wagner (Sudbury, MA/Lincoln Sudbury) have jelled as a group in front of Ross.

The team's 26 goals scored are fifth-best in the league, however they've only scored once in the last three games entering the tournament. Samuelson is tied for the NESCAC lead in scoring with 1.79 points per game (25 points on 11 goals and three assists in 14 games). Her 11 goals are tied for the most in NESCAC with Bates' Kim Alexander.

Fellow senior tri-captain Sarah Callaghan (Northborough, MA/Algonquin) leads the NESCAC in assists per game with 0.67, setting up six goals in nine games. She has missed five matches with a knee injury and is questionable for the weekend.

Sophomore Martha Furtek (East Falmouth, MA/Falmouth), senior tri-captain Lindsay Garmirian (Amherst, MA/Amherst), sophomore Lauren Fedore (East Lansing, MI/East Lansing) and senior Lydia Claudio (Woburn, MA/Open Bible Academy) have also been key offensive contributors.

"I think that our focus has been important this year," Callaghan said. "We could have gotten caught up in a lot of different things - losses, injuries, rankings, our winning streak. But the team and the coaches have been able to enjoy the good things and move on from the bad things while taking each game as it comes and focusing on just that game. We have a lot of fun when we're together, on or off the field, and I think we've managed to keep the stress level relatively low this fall."

It goes without saying that the young women on the Tufts squad are intelligent, based upon their enrollment at one of the top universities in the country. However, the Jumbos take it to another level. Of the 12 non-first-year and transfer players on the roster, every single one of them has a grade point average of 3.1 or better. Six are 3.5 or better, and 10 more than half the total roster are 3.4 or better.

"I think that this mostly shows that if we're going to do something, we want to do it well," Callaghan said. "I know that everyone on this team works really hard at their schoolwork. We expect a lot of ourselves, whether it's on the field or our grades."

This coming weekend, their expectation is to win the 2005 NESCAC title and the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.

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