KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As the whistle blew making Amherst national champions for the first time in school history and celebration ensued, all Amherst coach Justin Serpone wanted to do was watch. His Amherst team had won the national title with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Loras.
Standing at the touchline before his team’s bench, which had cleared onto the field along with a small group of fans breaking away from the stands, Serpone took in the spectacle.
“I just wanted to watch,” Serpone said. “In life you have moments where you sit there and realize ‘I want to remember everything about this. I want to remember how I feel, I want to remember what everything looks like, the lighting and the sound and all that.'”
Serpone’s Amherst team claimed the championship with two goals that lifted the team after going down 1-0 early. In the ninth minute, Loras scored when forward Johnny Rummelhart finished a ball that bounced into the 18-yard box. Rummelhart directed it toward goal and it went in with a redirection from an Amherst defender. The assist was credited to both Alex Bradley and Kevin Higgins.
“It was good to get the momentum of the first goal under our belt,” Rummelhart said. “Our goal was to get the first goal and make them play a different style of game, [to] make them chase us instead of us chasing them.”
Then, Amherst found its feet. In the 14th minute, Amherst answered as forward Jackson Lenhart headed a corner kick from Luke Nguyen into the goal at the near post. Lenhart’s run met the ball less than a yard away from the post as it was nodded in.
In the 54th minute, Bryce Ciambella lifted a shot over Loras goalkeeper Jacob Peterson for the game's winning goal. Ciambella took his shot from the left side of the 18-yard box and sent it into the side netting at the far post.
“We haven’t been behind that much and the fact that we responded five minutes later is a testament to the fact that they believe in themselves and that we’re going to keep knocking,” Serpone said.
Serpone added that learning to come from behind in games is one of the biggest lessons he learned throughout his career.
Those five minutes that Amherst spent down a goal made for only the third time this season that Amherst has trailed in a game. They had trailed in two regular season games against Wesleyan and Williams. Amherst’s excellent defense is second in the nation in goals against average with .20.
After giving up the first goal, Amherst worked to make defensive adjustments. Those adjustments proved to be enough to prevent Loras from scoring the equalizer, even after a frantic last 10 minutes that resulted in 13 shots from Loras to Amherst’s 6 in the second half.
“[Loras is] very dangerous from wide areas,” Thomas Bull, Amherst’s goalkeeper, said. “One thing we wanted to tighten up after that play [Rummelhart’s goal] was marking in the midfield off the crosses. I think we did a great job of that and full credit to our defense who battled for 90 minutes to get the win.”
One of the biggest saves Bull, Division III’s career leader in saves, made in the game was a stop on a Rummelhart shot from a breakaway in the 53rd minute, just before Amherst’s game-winning goal. Loras forward Richard Lenkin flicked the ball onto Rummelhart’s run and Bull tipped his shot toward the far post wide.
In the semifinals that involved both of these teams, only one goal was scored. That was a 39th minute goal from Jonah Jacke that sent Loras into the final, but Amherst won its semifinal in penalties.
In the final, however, offense was ever present. With 41 total shots, the game was an end-to-end affair that nearly produced many more goals.
“It was really intense fast paced college soccer game,” Dan Rothert, head coach of Loras, said. “On the losing side, it hurts.”