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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Middlebury Men's Soccer Advances to Final, Falls to Williams

Author: David Lindholm Assistant News Editor

After knocking off Goliath last week in the regular season, Coach Dave Saward's men were unable to come away with another win against Williams, as the Ephs pounded Middlebury 5-1 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championship (NESCAC) game. This followed a fine performance against Tufts in the semifinals where the Panthers came away 1-0 winners.

Saturday's game against Tufts could have easily been overlooked by the Panthers, who knew when the game started that the winner would face Williams in the final. The Panthers were favored to win, as the number two seed, and had taken Tufts out during the regular season by a score of 3-0.

The Jumbos' defense held strong for the entire first half, as did the Panthers' back line, in a tight match where shots were poured in but none could find the back of the net.

It was not until the 62nd minute that the scoreless deadlock was broken. Receiving a ball from Danny Roda '04, Conor Shapiro '03 found himself holding the ball inside the 18-yard box. Shapiro then turned, beating his defender, and sent a screamer into the side netting that left Jumbo goalkeeper Scott Conroy without a chance. Shapiro finished the season as Middlebury's top goal-scorer, with five and also led the team in points, with 13.

The Panthers were able to continue their strong defensive outing, allowing Tufts a few chances but keeping them scoreless. Brian Hamm '02 was again stellar between the pipes, earning his fourth consecutive clean sheet. This gives Hamm six shutouts on the season, and at the game's end he had not allowed a goal in over 400 minutes of play.

"I was happy with the team's effort," said Saward. "They put us under a lot of pressure, and we didn't necessarily move the ball around as crisply as we may have liked, but on the whole I'd say I'm pleased with the way we played today."

Sunday's match against Williams was a completely different story for the Panthers. Eighteen minutes into the match, Todd Maloney '03 managed to get his head onto a ball after some desperate Williams attempts to clear the ball. A Middlebury set piece was played into the box, and Maloney capitalized for his third goal of the season.

This lead would only stand for one and a half minutes, as the NESCAC's leading scorer, Alex Blake, capitalized on a misplayed ball and sent a shot into the open net. That goal turned the tide in the game, negating the Middlebury lead immediately after it had materialized. It also ignited the Williams offense, which smelled blood and worked hard for the go-ahead goal. It came 12 minutes later, and the game went into the half 2-1 in favor of Williams.

The Ephs put the game out of reach only eight minutes into the second half and padded their lead in the 69th minute, on a penalty kick. Williams finished their scoring in the last minute of play, completing the 5-1 scoreline. Williams piled on a massive 31 shots in the game to Middlebury's 10. Williams keeper Robbie Kirsher was forced to make only one save, and Hamm finished with eight.

"We got beaten today by a team that deserved to win," Saward said. "No decisions made by anybody beyond what they did on the field could have changed the outcome; we might have got a bit unlucky with the first goal but that's soccer. I give all the credit to them, I wish them well; I hope they can go on and win the tournament for all of us."

The Middlebury men finished the season with a final record of nine wins, six losses and two draws, performing especially well inside the NESCAC but were inconsistent in non-league games. The Panthers' second-place finish in both the regular season and tournament is a continuation of the team's strong play inside the league, and the team will look to improve on their record next season. The team will be without two standouts, however. The Panthers saw two seniors named to the first-team All-NESCAC squad.

First was keeper Hamm. This was his second straight appointment on the squad, and he ends his career second on the school's all-time saves list with 235. This season, Hamm sported a 1.15 goals against average with six shutouts. The second player was Nelson Martelle '02, also a first-team selection for the second straight season. The senior has played as a back and midfielder during his four years at Middlebury and enjoyed a very successful career. He served as a tri-captain this season, starting all 17 games and scoring three goals.