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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Men’s varsity soccer bow out in Elite 8

<p>Ben Powers ’ 23.5 was a senior captain for the Panthers this fall.</p>

Ben Powers ’ 23.5 was a senior captain for the Panthers this fall.

Despite falling short of its goal, men’s soccer can still reflect on a successful season.

Middlebury made it to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the fifth time in program history before falling to Amherst College 1–0 on Nov. 19. The Panthers, who felt like they had the pieces to make a run at the national title, were sent home earlier than anticipated. 

“It was a historic season. We absolutely had the pieces to win a national title, and of course we feel like we felt short,” said Kyle Nilsson ’25. “But the season has had so many positives despite this, and it’s so important to recognize our achievements and our culture because this team is truly special.”

Prior to their quarterfinal loss, the Panthers showed just what made them so unique. After conceding two goals to SUNY Cortland in the early stages of the NCAA Round of 16 game, Middlebury scored four unanswered goals to win 4–2. Nilsson started the comeback at the end of the first half. 

“Our mindset this season was always forward,” Nilsson said. “[The game against] Cortland was the culmination of an entire season of our always forward mindset, always demanding the best of everyone around you.”

Before beating Cortland, Middlebury earned a pair of first and second-round NCAA tournament wins against Western New England University and Johns Hopkins, respectively. 

Despite falling short of a national championship, the Panthers have plenty of reason to celebrate. The team set a school record for most goals in a season (52) and recorded 15 wins, tied for third-most in program history. Middlebury also finished with an unbeaten regular season record for the first time since 1998. 

The squad will graduate five seniors this year, including Jordan Saint Louis ’24, who finished his career with 24 goals and 21 assists, and Ryan Grady ’23.5, who leaves as the school record holder in clean sheets (40) and saves (278). Captain Ben Powers ’23.5, Jacob Charles ’23.5 and Ben Taylor ’24 will also graduate this academic year. 

“The seniors have been a massive part of what’s changed the culture and technical ability for this team,” said Nilsson. “Their graduation will leave a massive hole.”

Although the presence of this year’s seniors will certainly be missed, there is plenty of reason for optimism looking ahead. Next year, the team returns with five of its top six point scorers: Gavin Randolph ’26, Nilsson, Tyler Payne ’25, Colin Dugan ’27 and Luke Madden ’24.5, respectively. The team’s backline mainstays — absent Grady — also return: Madden, Will O’Brien ’24.5, Hank Nelson ’25 and Owen Davis ’27.

The team’s first-year class also holds promise. Dugan was one of the top point scorers this season with three goals and four assists, Davis had the seventh most minutes on the team (1437) and Will Sawin started in 20 of the 21 games in which he played. 

Several questions face the Panthers entering the 2024 season. Who will step up as the team’s top point scorer, given the departure of Saint-Louis? Which goalkeeper will replace Ryan Grady? And how will Middlebury learn from their defeats to Tufts and Amherst? 

Fortunately, head coach Alex Elias ’08 has no shortage of time or options. He also now has the support of new assistant coach Ben Potter ’20, who players say has had an immediate impact on the program. 

“The coaches are a pretty sensational unit. They put the team first in every way and have gone above and beyond to be resources to us off the field,” Nilsson said. “They have shown us what it truly feels to be part of a family and community, and we are so grateful.”

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Middlebury competed against Western New England University at the NCAA Tournament, in additional to Johns Hopkins University, SUNY Cortland and Amherst College.
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Blaise Siefer

Blaise Siefer ‘23.5 is a sports staff writer.

Siefer is majoring in Sociology and minoring in Spanish.

For three semesters in 2021 and 2022, Siefer served as Senior Sports Editor. He also co-founded a Middlebury sports recap podcast, PFL Weekly, which is released on all major streaming platforms every Tuesday. 

Siefer is also the Co-Founder and Co-President of Middlebury Club Soccer.