On the back of a two-goal performance from Will Corcoran ‘14 and a tremendous defensive effort in the second half, the Carleton College men’s soccer team defeated Saint John’s University, 2-1, to claim its second MIAC postseason crown along with the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
"It was a team victory out there today," said Corcoran after the match. "The 11 guys out on the pitch gave everything they had, everyone who subbed in brought a huge effort, and even the players on the bench helped give us the energy we needed to keep going forward."
Just two days after a grueling 1-0 victory in miserable pitch conditions during their semifinal match at St. Olaf, the Knights (15-2-3) needed all the energy they could muster to conquer Saint John’s (9-7-3). The Johnnies had played Carleton to a draw earlier this season and came into Satruday’s match hot off a 2-1 win against top-seeded Gustavus Adolphus.
Corcoran provided some of that early energy himself. In the 10th minute, Jordan Cammarota ‘15 dribbled the ball down to the Saint John’s end-line, and sent a cross in the air along the six-yard line. Corcoran got a late break on the ball but outran his defender, striking his volley into the open side of the net to give Carleton the early advantage.
Corcoran struck again in the 22nd minute. After Branden McGarrity ‘16 was dispossessed inside the 18, Corcoran ran on to the loose ball. With his first touch, he shifted it into an open lane a few feet to his left. His subsequent shot burned a path past diving Johnnies’ keeper Ryan Brutger and inside the left post to increase the score to the 2-0.
Carleton carried that same advantage into the break thanks to James Neher’s ‘14 save of a close-in shot from the Johnnies’ Michael Coburn shortly before the break.
Saint John’s wasn’t ready to go away just yet, however. In the 73rd minute, Rocky Harmon made a move past his defender at the top of the penalty area and launched a shot into the upper-right 90, bringing the visitors within reach of a tying goal.
Two minutes later, Neher fell to the ground after punching away a Saint John’s corner kick. The Johnnies’ David Wee found himself with the ball and an open lane to the net. He launched what was sure to be the tying tally. At this point, first-year player Riley Phelps ‘17, a recent convert to the outside back position, came to the rescue and headed the ball away at the goal line, preserving Carleton’s slim lead.
Phelp’s deflection proved to be the last shot the Knights were forced to face, and at the end of 90 minutes he and his teammates hoisted the MIAC postseason title.
"We played an emotionally and physically exhausting semifinal on Thursday and our backline simply willed themselves to defend the lead," said Carleton head coach Bob Carlson, "Saint John’s put us under duress often in the second half."
The Knights finished the match with a 14-6 shot advantage over the Johnnies, who put all six of their shots on-frame. Neher contributed four saves in the victory.
With the win, Carleton also earned the MIAC’s automatic qualifying bid to the 61-squad NCAA tournament.
"I am proud of every single guy on our roster," said Carlson, "They’ve worked extremely hard since day one of our preseason to earn another MIAC title, and their willingness to sacrifice and invest in our program is the reason for their success.
"They’ve been led admirably by Joey Pedtke, Michael Hovick, Neil Bartholomay, Will Corcoran, James Neher, Simon Ginet, and Ben Walsh. Those seniors have encouraged, pushed, and guided us. Even in the midst of the celebration, they reminded the group that more work is necessary starting with their recovery today. Their experience will be vital as we prepare for another trip to the NCAA tournament."
And speaking of that trip to the NCAA tournament, the Knights will begin what they hope will be a deep national tourney run when they match up against Westminster College (Mo.). Part of a four-team "regional" with the first- and second-round games held at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., the Carleton-Westminster contest is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start on Saturday, Nov. 16.
Westminster (11-8-1) is making its second-ever trip to the NCAA Championships, the previous visit coming back in 2002. This year, the Blue Jays finished in a three-way tie atop the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings and earned an automatic bid to the championships by winning the SLIAC postseason tourney.
In the other opening round matchup, College of St. Scholastica (17-2-3) will take on host Gustavus (13-3-1). St. Scholastica will be making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and third overall. The Saints earned the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference’s (UMAC) automatic qualifier. Gustavus posted a 10-0-0 record during the MIAC’s regular season but was upset, as mentioned earlier, during the semifinals of the MIAC Playoffs. The Gusties are making their 10th all-time trip to the NCAA Championships after securing one of the 19 at-large bids into this year’s tournament
Saturday’s victors will meet in a second-round match on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Sectionals ("Sweet Sixteen") the following weekend.