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Late header by Ocel sends men’s soccer to Sweet Sixteen

By Brian Tabakin

Section: Featured, Sports

November 16, 2012

Hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at Gordon’s Field, Brandeis’ fans packed the bleachers with a crowd of more than 500 for two days last weekend, watching the men’s soccer team advance to the round of 16.

The Brandeis fans were treated to a dominating win in the opening round against the Baruch Bobcats as the Judges defeated them 2-0 to advance to the second round.

Sam Ocel ’13 lived up to his UAA MVP honors, scoring both Brandeis goals and setting the tone early on in the game. In the fifth minute of play, the Judges played the ball into the goalmouth from the right side of the 18-yard box. The Baruch defenders deflected the ball past their keeper Helder Correia and to the waiting foot of Ocel who buried it into the net for his 11th goal of the season and his eighth game-winning goal of the campaign.

Despite becoming the first Brandeis player to receive the UAA MVP since 1994, Ocel was in no mood to talk about the honor.

“I’m really getting sick and tired of talking about that,” Ocel said. “I honestly would trade that away in a second for the team. I want a national championship.”

While Ocel did not want to sing his own praises, Coach Coven had no hesitations. “Sam has been outstanding all year. I think his play speaks for itself.”

Just eight minutes later, Ocel struck again to pad the Judges’ lead. Lee Russo ’13 passed the ball to the right side of the box. Ocel was waiting near the far post and he immediately sent the ball past the Baruch keeper to put the Judges on top, 2-0.

The rest of the first half was evenly contested with Brandeis narrowly outshooting the Bobcats 6-4; however, the Judges enjoyed higher-quality scoring chances. Toward the end of the first half, the play became extremely chippy with Ocel receiving a yellow card.

In the second half, the Judges completely dominated possession and pace of play, outshooting Baruch 14-2. Correia made several spectacular saves to keep the Bobcats’ deficit at just two goals, including two stops on Tyler Savonen ’15.

Having kept the Brandeis offense off the scoreboard in the second half, the Bobcats got some high-quality scoring chances of their own but failed to capitalize. Keeper Blake Minchoff ’13 made two sensational saves in the second half to preserve the Judges’ lead.

In the 60th minute, he came off his line to get the ball before Baruch’s Akil George, denying both Victor Tlepshev in the 72nd minute and Oren Kozlwoski in the 82nd minute.

Coven was extremely pleased with Minchoff’s performance and was effusive with his praise in the post-game press conference.

“I think this was the best game I’ve ever seen him play. He was great.” Coven said. “Blake has become a premier goalkeeper. It’s just hard work. He sure put in his hours and look what he’s done these past two years.”

The Judges sealed the win in front of a rambunctious crowd of 575 fans, the largest attendance in over two decades. This year, much has been made of the revitalized student support and attendance for the soccer team headlined by the newly formed Coven’s Corner. The support is not something that has gone unnoticed by the team.

Coven stressed the importance of the rekindled school spirit.

“I think our fans give us a little adrenaline rush. Our fans our great and what they’ve done this year is great for us with the way they support us,” he said. “It shows that Brandeis has school spirit. People come out to the games now, not just to see these guys play, but for the atmosphere. It’s fun coming out here cheering and yelling. Just being part of something like this is an enjoyable experience.”

Coven continued, “We’ve been all over the country—UAA schools, New England schools. Nobody has better fans than we do.”

The next day, the Judges took on Vassar College who had defeated Tufts the previous day.

While there were multiple opportunities to score throughout the game, both teams played stellar defense and had potential goals nullified as a result of offsides calls; thus, the game was played to a scoreless draw for 89 minutes.

With the game seemingly destined for overtime with the clock running down, the Judges finally broke through and sent the crowd into hysteria.

With a little more than 30 seconds left in regulation, Robbie Lynch ’15 launched a long throw-in from midfield to Russo. Russo took the ball on one hop and played it to the right side of the 18-yard box. He then fired a crossing pass to Ocel who was able to get his head on the ball and direct it past the outstretched arms of Vassar keeper Ryan Grimme.

In a state of shock and awe after sending the Judges to the Sweet 16, Ocel could not put into words what the goal meant to him and the team.

“I really don’t know what to say about it right now. It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said.

Russo added that he thought Vassar had a defensive breakdown on the play. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw [Ocel], and he was unmarked for whatever reason so I tried to put it in his area and he made a really nice finish.”

Minutes before the Judges scored the game-winning goal, it appeared that Vassar had struck first. After a corner kick, Zander Mrlik got his head on the ball and attempted to redirect the ball into the goal but Kyle Feather ’14 was able to get his head on the shot and clear the ball off the line.

Minchoff was confident that Feather would make the play. “[Mrlik] just made a great play on the ball, but when it went past me I knew Feather had it. That’s why we put someone on the post.

Coven has really enjoyed this particular team, noting their chemistry and passion.

“I’d be hard pressed to say there’s a team I’ve enjoyed more than this one. Their love for one another and passion for the game makes them real special and I’m very happy for them. I’ve had the championship team, a couple Final Four teams, the ECAC championship team last year, but this team’s real special.”

Coven continued, “When these guys came in we were probably average at best and maybe not even average and look what we are now in a very short period of time. That’s all hard work and the passion they have for Brandeis soccer and I couldn’t be happier for these guys. Nobody deserves this more than these guys. I can’t even put into words how much these guys mean to me and what they’ve done for the program.”

The Judges will travel to Amherst College this weekend for a Sweet 16 matchup with Williams College at 11 a.m. The Athletics department is sponsoring fan buses to and from Amherst for just $5, which will leave from Gosman at 8 a.m. on Saturday and return to Brandeis immediately after the game.

In addition to the Judges matchup with Williams, Amherst College will be playing against Swarthmore College. The winners of both games will play in the Elite Eight the following day for a chance to advance to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas on Friday, Nov. 30.

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