KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Playing in the team’s first Division III semifinal, Tufts extended the school to its first Division III championship in school history with a 3-0 win against Ohio Wesleyan.
With a 14-2-4 record in the New England Small Collegiate Athletic Conference, Tufts spent most of the regular season unranked, but caught fire in the Division III tournament.
Tufts defeated defending champions Messiah in the quarterfinals with a 1-0 win. The goal came just 56 seconds into the game. The team continued its tendency to score early in matches with a goal from Matt Zinner just under two minutes into play against Ohio Wesleyan.
Forward Gus Santos added the other two goals in the second half.Tufts head coach Josh Shapiro spoke after the game about the school’s unexpected run in this year’s tournament.
“We’ve won four games on the road. Messiah has set the standard in Division III soccer in quality and winning,” Shapiro said. “You have to believe that if you’ve beaten them and taken the road we have, you’ve got as good a shot as anyone.”
After Shapiro’s team grabbed the opening goal, Ohio Wesleyan grabbed back some of the control of the game, but failed to score a goal.
“The momentum definitely shifted a little bit [during the game.] Earlier in the season we used to take leads early in the first half and drop off a little,” senior forward Gus Santos said of the stalemate during the stretch of the game. “What we’ve learned from those games was to score early, keep the momentum going, and keep hammering the ball in.”
Santos would go on to score two goals in the second half, six minutes apart from each other. His performance sealed Tufts’ place in the Division III championship.
“We’ve got great veteran leadership. These guys have started games since their freshman or sophomore years, they’ve been in big moments,” Shapiro said. “Big veteran players are making plays down the stretch for us.”
Shapiro hopes that the team’s appearance in the championship this year can lead to long-term success for the program. Tufts had only made it to the quarterfinal previously in school history.
“[Being knocked out of the tournament in 2012] demanded some more concentration and commitment. These guys came back playing with some urgency,” Shapiro said. “Our veteran players have set us on a path to be a dominant team nationally.”
Tufts has achieved this by beating some of the best teams that Division III men’s soccer has to offer. Ohio Wesleyan won the tournament in 2011. Wesleyan’s coach, Jay Martin, is the winningest coach in men’s NCAA soccer with 640 wins.
“Ohio is another team with a great soccer legacy, so playing against the best teams gives us more confidence for the next game that we will be able to play to our potential,” said Zinner, who scored the first goal in the match.
The Jumbos will move on to the final to play Wheaton (Ill.), a team which defeated SUNY Oneonta in the match prior to Tufts’ win.
“They’re very, very good. They’re big and athletic. We are very potent on the break and we can close teams down that like to play,” Shapiro said. “I think our defensive pressure in the midfield has been as good as a lot of teams here.”