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Men’s soccer return to prominence cut short with heartbreaking loss

By Connor Novy

Section: Sports

November 30, 2012

Two weeks ago, the Judges’ most successful season in over two decades came to a heartbreaking close at Amherst where they faced Williams College. After coming together four years ago, the team has completely rejuvenated the program and returned Brandeis to the national stage. Soccer is, however, a fickle game. Sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way. This appeared to be the case in their loss to Williams as the Judges finished the season with a record of 18-3-1.

The Judges nearly scored just three minutes into the game when Sam Ocel ’13 played a strong cross into the box that deflected off a Williams’ defender, landing dangerously close to the goal. Unfortunately for the Judges, Finan was there for Williams to make a diving stop to keep the Judges off the board.

Blake Minchoff ’13 made a key save for the Judges just a few minutes later on Patrick Ebobisse when he found space at the top of the box and rocketed a shot toward goal, but Minchoff lunged to his right, punching the ball away.

In a back-and-forth effort, Brandeis was the next to get a quality scoring chance. The Judges nearly got a penalty kick after Williams committed a foul, but it occurred inches outside the box. Ocel took the set piece that followed but his shot was wide of the left post.

The Judges once again had a stellar opportunity in the 24th minute when Tyler Savonen ’15 sent a perfect through ball to Ocel on the right side. Ocel beat his defenders but his clean look went just high of the net. It was an unfortunate turn of events for the Judges as the Williams’ keeper was out of position and would have been hard-pressed to stop the shot.

Early in the second half, both teams played tight defense, denying each other any sustained offensive pressure; however, in the 63rd minute, this changed. Mohammed Rashid gathered a loose ball in the left corner of their offensive end. He then used nifty footwork to maneuver past his defender and enter the box. Rashid then sent a low cross to Ebobisse who overpowered his defender and put a toe on the ball, depositing it into the left corner of the net to put the Ephs ahead 1-0.

Coach Coven lamented the goal.

“We created the situation by trying to dribble out of the back and we lost possession of the ball in the middle of the field.” Still, Coven acknowledged the Judges had plenty of opportunities to win the game.

Lee Russo ’13 agreed with Coven.

“The kid made a nice run and I thought Joe [Eisenbies ’13] got in position but the kid got the ball off and they had a nice finish. It’s unfortunate but they were a team that was pretty good at effectively counterattacking.”

Brandeis had the next quality scoring opportunity in the 81st minute of play when a bouncing ball in the box nearly gave Russo a point-blank opportunity on goal; however, Finan arrived just in time to secure the ball, denying Russo the scoring chance.

For the final minutes of the game, the Judges maintained substantial offensive pressure on the Ephs’ defense. Williams’ Matt Ratajczak and Dan Lima, however, anchored the team’s defense as they prevented the Judges from converting their pressure into the tying goal.

In a frantic last 40 seconds of play, the Judges had two more scoring opportunities, but Finan was there each time to make the save for Williams.

Despite controlling the game with a 15-10 advantage in shots and an 8-4 edge in corner kicks, the Judges could not take advantage of their scoring opportunities. During a game, a team will only get a certain number of scoring chances and has to capitalize on them, but the Judges failed to do so.

Following the game, Coach Mike Coven walked over to the fan section, Coven’s Corner, where students had assembled in their effort to support the team. In an outpouring of emotion, Coven thanked the students and fans for their season-long support and credited them for helping rejuvenate the program.

“The group that hung around Coven’s Corner was part of the team. They inspired us to play harder, faster and smarter. They showed us that the entire school cared about us and athletics. In all my years here we’ve never had school support like this.”

A large part of Coven’s emotion about the fan group was that they named it after him.

“The whole season was very emotional and a large part of that emotion went beyond the team and to how we were supported,” he said.

Going into next year, the Judges will be without Russo, Minchoff and defensive back Joe Eisenbies. The trio end their careers with 51 wins, two ECAC tournament titles and the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1985. Ocel, who missed the entirety of his sophomore season due to injury, will return to the team next season as a graduate student.

While the Judges were unable to accomplish their ultimate goal of winning the national title, the team and seniors completely revitalized a program and awakened a long-dormant school spirit on the Brandeis campus.

Coven fondly recalled a day the previous summer that instilled in him the work ethic and effort of the outgoing senior class.

“I remember driving by the field in the middle of the summer and seeing the guys practicing and working out on the field even though its 90 degrees outside. This wasn’t a three month commitment to these guys, it was a year round effort. Hopefully, they’ve planted that seed in our younger guys that this effort needs to be made to keep where we’re at.”

This particular team and senior class may not have a trophy to show for their accomplishments this year, but they leave a legacy that will last forever.

Russo looked back on the season with fondness.

“It’s been a great turnaround for the program and I’m just really proud and excited to have been a part of it,” he said.

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