Soccer Takes National Title Again
Junior Tyler Kulcsar flicked in a corner kick by classmate Kevin Halliday in the second overtime to give the Tufts men’s soccer team a 1-0 win over Calvin College in the 2016 NCAA Division III Championship match at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, on Dec. 3.
The victory gave head coach Josh Shapiro’s Jumbos their second national title in three years. The 2014 team, which included 13 players on this year’s roster, were 4-2 winners against Wheaton (Ill.) in that NCAA final.
“This was just an absolute gutty, gutty performance,” Shapiro said. “This team can play good soccer, and it can defend well, but I think the outstanding quality that has come through, especially in this NCAA tournament, is how gritty and resilient they can be. It’s a really special group in terms of that mentality.”
Senior goalkeeper Scott Greenwood and senior back Daniel Sullivan, who was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the NCAA Final Four, led the Jumbos as they shut out a Knights team that averaged better than three goals per game this season. The Jumbo defense was particularly strong in the first half, when Greenwood made five saves. Calvin College, out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, finished the game with a 10-5 advantage in corner kicks.
But it was Tufts that converted a corner to win it with 6:24 remaining before penalty kicks. Kulcsar, a midfielder, was positioned at the far post. He came toward the center of the goal area and met Halliday’s kick with the side of his right foot, sending the ball flying past Calvin goalie Nate Van Ryn.
“I was about to run and get back on defense,” said Kulcsar, whose NCAA championship game-winner was the first goal of his college career. “Kevin played a great ball, and I guess they didn’t have many guys inside the six, because they were all marking our guys up top. I saw his ball coming and just did what I could to put the side of my foot on it. I kind of blacked out from there.”
“Not only in this game did we have trouble with services on corners, but frankly all season,” Halliday noted at the post-game press conference. “So it was about time that I played a good ball. I put it in, and Tyler got on the end of it, so it was pretty awesome.”
The play that earned the corner kick had nearly ended the game in the Jumbos’ favor. Freshman Gavin Tasker’s shot from the top left corner of the box ricocheted off a Calvin defender and went just wide of the left post. Within moments, Halliday delivered the ball to Kulcsar, ending the game in the 104th minute.
The Jumbos punched their ticket to the championship match the day before, on Dec. 2, when they defeated the University of St. Thomas, 2-1, in the semifinals. Like Kulcsar, the semifinal scorers, junior Stephen McMillian and senior co-captain Zach Halliday, also netted their first goals of the year. McMillian’s goal was the first of his career, while Zach Halliday was set up by younger brother Kevin for the first time in their Jumbo careers.
The championship match was the first meeting between Tufts and Calvin. The Knights were the more dangerous team in the first 45 minutes. Though Kevin Halliday produced some early shots for Tufts, and a header by junior Conor Coleman was saved by Van Ryn, it was the Knights who grabbed most of the first-half momentum.
The first good scoring opportunity came when Calvin’s Jacob Witte crossed the ball to Stephan Hooker in front of the goal. Greenwood was there to stop the point-blank shot, keeping the game scoreless.
Calvin finished the opening half with a 4-2 advantage in corners and a 7-5 edge in shots.
A Swing in Momentum
Though the Jumbos evened the play in the second half, and Tufts opportunities by freshman Zachary Trevorrow and senior Zach Halliday were strong, it was the Knights who had the best opportunities of the second period, too. On a corner, Calvin had a pair of headers, with one by Jacob Lyon hitting the crossbar and a second by Matt Hinds sailing just high. After a Tufts foul right outside the top of the box, Greenwood had to rise to save a free kick by Hooker.
The Jumbos grabbed the momentum when it counted—in the overtime period. They had the only two shots in the first overtime, including one by freshman Tanner Jameson that was saved by Van Ryn. In the second OT, Tufts again had a 2-0 shot advantage and won it.
“Calvin was absolutely outstanding,” Shapiro said. “Frankly, for good portions of the game, they were the better team today. But I can’t speak enough about the resilience of our group. I’m just incredibly proud of their effort and their guts.”
Tufts finished with a 14-13 advantage in shots. Greenwood made all five of his saves in the first half, while Van Ryn finished with five stops for Calvin, which ended the season with a 23-3 record. Kulcsar was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player after scoring the game-winning goal. Greenwood, Zach Halliday and senior Gaston Becherano were selected to the All-Tournament team.
The Jumbos (15-5-2) won the 2016 national championship during a season in which they dropped their first three games. Tufts lost in the quarterfinals of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and it was iffy whether they would receive an at-large NCAA berth. The Jumbos, who allowed just one goal in six NCAA games, won four 1-0 decisions on their run to the national crown.
“To be able to keep a shutout in the national championship game is again a credit to our defense,” Greenwood said. “Credit to our midfielders, credit to our strikers. It's really a team effort with us.”
For Greenwood, one of the 13 players, including six seniors, to win two titles at Tufts, it’s a sweet finish to his Jumbo career.
“To come out and get it again, sort of against all odds as an unranked team coming into the tournament, I think that speaks to the heart that we have in our program and the true grit that we play with,” Greenwood said. “To be able to put a stamp on Jumbo soccer like this, and walk away like we have, it feels great to leave on top. Can't deny that.”
Sports information director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.