KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A second goal from Tufts' Nathan Majumder with just under nine minutes left in the NCAA Division III championship sealed a 4-2 victory against Wheaton (Ill.).
The championship win for Tufts is the first in school history for the Jumbos. Previously, the furthest the school had come was the quarterfinal, in 2012.
“It’s amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m not sure how we got here after losing in the first round of our conference tournament and we weren’t even sure we’d get in this tournament,” said Majumder, whose penalty and late goal won Tufts the title. “It’s been a magical run after that.”
Tufts is a team that is used to scoring early in matches. Two minutes into the team’s semifinal against Ohio Wesleyan, Matt Zinner struck the first goal. Tufts grabbed what would prove a winning goal against Messiah in the quarterfinal only a minute into the game.“Starting fast, playing with the right mentality, and trusting that from that, you’ll play the quality soccer we want to play gives you the chance to do great things,” Tufts head coach Josh Shapiro said.
This time, however, the match stayed scoreless until 27 minutes in when Tufts’ Peter Lee-Kramer finished off a pass from Rui Pinheiro.
“They were an amazing team with some great individual players. Credit goes to our defense,” Madjumder said of his team’s uncharacteristic win. “All eleven players put the effort in defensively, and if we didn’t have that, there’s no way we would’ve won this game because [Wheaton] kept pounding the ball into the box.
Tufts’ unlikely run in this year’s tournament advanced the Jumbos past some of the best schools in Division III soccer. The team beat undefeated, defending champion Messiah in the quarterfinal as well as 2011 champion Ohio Wesleyan in the semifinal.
Shapiro spoke after the match about his players’ journey to the first championship win in school history.
“I said that at some point we could be really good and I didn’t know it was going to be here, but I knew we would eventually be a team that could make deep runs in the tournament,” Shapiro said. “I’m so proud to see it come to fruition, and they’ve really driven our program for four years.”
The Jumbos triumph was in doubt when the team was knocked out in the first round of the New England Small Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
Shapiro was pleased that his team responded in the NCAA tournament after that disappointment.
“It worked as a rude awakening for us. The lesson was learned and digested. We started every game in the NCAA tournament well. We scored the first goal in every game of the NCAA tournament, which seems to be important,” he said.
In Shapiro’s fourth season as coach, he has won the national championship with his first recruiting class.
“It feels pretty good. I haven’t felt like this ever before,” he said. “Professionally, reaching your pinnacle like this, it’s pretty unbelievable. I’m so, so happy for my senior class, the first group of boys I ever recruited.”
While Shapiro’s career as coach is just taking off, Wheaton coach Mike Giuliano is saying goodbye to college soccer after 28 years at the helm of various schools.
“My memory is that we fought to utter exhaustion for a cause greater than ourselves,” Giuliano said. “How many teams can be down three-nil in the second half and fight that hard to get back? I’m proud of them for that but we’re all pretty sad in there right now.”