AMHERST, Massachusetts -- Amherst men's soccer earned its first-ever invitation to the NCAA Final Four with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Ithaca on Saturday. The Jeffs will face the defending national champion, The College of New Jersey, in a semifinal meeting at 10:00am on Friday, November 28 on the campus of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Making their third NCAA appearance in five years, this is the second Amherst College team to reach the Final Four in as many years, and the Jeffs are the first men's team in school history to do so in any sport.
The Jeffs enter championship weekend with a 12-4-2 record, boasting the most wins in a single season in the 77-year history of the varsity program. After defeating archrival Williams, then ranked No. 5 in the region, for the first time in 15 years, Amherst earned a No. 4 seed in the New England bracket. A blast by sophomore Gary Kegal (Woodway, WA) gave Amherst a 4-2 victory in penalty kicks after a 3-3 tie in four overtimes with NESCAC rival Middlebury. That sent the Jeffs to the New England Final Four, from which they emerged with their first-ever regional title. A 2-0 win over host Bowdoin behind a pair of goals by junior Matt Diggs (Seattle, WA) propelled Amherst into its third regional championship game. Senior Co-Captain Mike Sullivan (Andover, MA) scored his second goal of the year off a Devin Talbott (Washington, DC) feed across the goalmouth to catalyze a dominating offense against second-seeded Plymouth State. Andy Kay's (North Easton, MA) third and fourth tallies of the tournament set up yesterday's Elite Eight showdown with Ithaca. Diggs and rookie Stephen Squillario (Randolph, NJ) notched goals against the Bombers to spoil Ithaca's hopes of returning to the Final Four.
The Jeffs are paced by a pair of fast forwards, as Kay and Diggs have combined for seven of ten Lord Jeff goals in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Kay leads the team with 11 goals and 4 assists in his sophomore campaign, while Diggs posts 7 scores and five assists to date. All-NESCAC Co-Captain Tim Christian (Agawam, MA) has controlled the midfield for the Jeffs toward his eight goals and three assists. The senior has set up all three Diggs goals in the tournament. Bolstering the midfield are reserves Brian Angelini (Granada Hills, CA), Sean Riley (Wellesley, MA), Robbie Hill (Averill Park, NY), Mike Kaschak (Bethesda, MD) and the sophomore Mike Sullivan (Penn Yan, NY).
Defensively, three-year starter Kevin Larner (Short Hills, NJ) has five shutouts to his credit, including two in the post-season, and he is backed up by rookie Stephen Tornabene (San Mateo, CA). The backfield of seniors Nate McDonald (Burnsville, MN) and Jon George (Minneapolis, MN) and juniors Ben Haley (Milford, CT) and Mike Grant (Mendon, MA) have been solid throughout the tournament, making big plays in the box and on the goal-line to catalyze Amherst's explosive offense.
The Jeffs had jumped out to a 7-0-1 start before dropping their first game. Under the renewed direction of Head Coach Peter Gooding, who returned from a seven-year hiatus from his former team of 22-years, Amherst rose to the top of the New England polls and to No. 4 in the country, the highest the Jeffs have ever ranked nationally. "The players came back to school ready to word hard," noted Gooding. "They anticipated this year to be a building year after graduating so many seniors who took most of the playing time. But any time you give a challenge to a good athlete or a good student, they don't want to be that building team and they've worked hard to rise about those expectations. Things always even out on the positive side if you work hard enough."
Amherst's toughest task will arise Friday when the Jeffs meet four-time Final Four team The College of New Jersey. The trio of Jason Cairns (Brick, NJ), Louis Scerbo (Succasunna, NJ) and Albie Lobbato (Jamesburg, NJ) have combined for 31 of the Lions' 54 goals in their 16-5 campaign. The Lions won their first national title in 1996 with a 2-1 victory over Kenyon in quadruple overtime.
Following the Amherst (12-4-2) -College of New Jersey (16-5) showdown at 10:00am, Mary Washington (21-2-1) will host top-ranked Wheaton (IL - 22-0-1) at 1:00pm. The championship game will take place on Saturday, November 29 at 1:00pm. Tickets will be available at the gate: $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for students with ID and $2.00 for children under 12.
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