Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2000


MEDFORD – In general with sports, early-season games aren't considered as important as games later in the schedule. The Tufts University women's soccer team would disagree, saying that their 3-2 win in two overtimes against Colby on September 23 was the springboard to their successful season.

The Jumbos host the NCAA final four this weekend (Nov. 18-19) at Kraft Field in Medford. Tufts (17-3-1) plays Wisconsin-Stevens Point (22-4) at 11 a.m. on Saturday, then #1 in the nation College of New Jersey (21-1) plays #2 Trinity University (19-1-1) at 1:30 p.m. The winners play for the 2000 National Championship on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Tufts is more than just happy to host the party. Head coach Martha Whiting's team entered the tournament ranked third in New England and 21st in the nation. The 1998 Tufts team, which included several players on the current squad, advanced to the national quarterfinals. So when Tufts earned a berth into this year's tournament, people had to figure the Jumbos would make a good showing. But the final four?

"We had lost to Middlebury the Saturday before and then Colby gets up on us 2-0," senior tri-captain Sara Yeatman said. "With 20 minutes left there was an injury and we all regrouped and said, ‘Ok, we have time to do this, let's take it one goal at a time.' And we did. One goal turned into two. And then in overtime we scored and celebrated, it was called back, and then we didn't let that distract us and scored again. It really set in our minds that we can do anything if we put our hearts in it and truly believe it possible."

The win over Colby was part of 12 victories in 13 games for the Jumbos until they lost 2-0 in the snow at Middlebury in the NESCAC Championship Game. They then earned one of the three berths awarded to NESCAC teams in this year's NCAA Tournament. They scored four goals in the second half to post a 5-0 win at home over the University of New England in the first round. They went to Middlebury again for the NCAA New England Regionals and beat Bowdoin on penalty kicks in the semis. They won their second New England Championship by topping Wheaton, 3-1, in the finals. Last week they posted a 1-0 quarterfinal win over William Smith College, which has 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

That this 2000 Jumbo team can rise to the occasion is one of its best qualities. A team that trailed little-known Simmons College, 2-0, before coming back to win on October 12, Tufts can rally with the best of them.

"We play well in our big games because we are not afraid of our opponents and know that we can beat anybody if it all comes together," said senior tri-captain Carmen Mikacenic. "It also helps to have half the team with big game experience from our last trip to the NCAAs in 1998."

"We play our best in the biggest games because of the level of mental preparedness that goes into them," added senior tri-captain Randee McArdle. "We collectively focus more, and especially now in the season, we know what's at stake if we lose. That's a big motivational factor."

The Jumbos are 10-0 on Kraft Field this fall, which makes them even more confident in their chances this weekend. The challenge is huge. College of New Jersey has outscored its opponents, 86-2, this season. Trinity University hasn't lost since September 8. Wisconsin-Stevens Point is only the fifth team in NCAA Div. 3 history to win 22 games. Tufts respects the opposition, but they are not intimidated.

"We are unbelievably pumped up," Yeatman said. "It just seems natural that we are still playing at this point. We all love to be out there playing and it really shows in our attitudes at practice and in the way we act with each other. We have a great chemistry and it starts off the field, but it is something that you can really see when we play together. Everyone at this point that we play has skill. We have skill across the board, and then we have heart. We are truly doing this for each other and that has helped us persevere."

"As a senior, it's a dream come true to be able to host such an event," McArdle said. "As a whole, I feel that the team is extremely determined to end our season with a win. One of our goals pre-season was to go undefeated at home, and we want to stick to that."

The 17 wins are the most in the 22-year history of the Tufts program. The Jumbos are hoping to add two more to the total. Goalkeeper McArdle, the career shutouts record holder at Tufts with 23, and defender Mikacenic back a skilled defense that has allowed 0.74 goals per game. Yeatman, a three-time All-NESCAC selection, is a leader on offense with Lynn Cooper (10-6-26) and Jess Trombly (6-7-19).

Tickets for the semi-final and championship game are $5 for adults, $3 for students with ID and $2 for children under 12. For more information, call the Tufts athletic department at 617/627-3232.