National Championship for Men’s Soccer

Jumbos win team’s first NCAA crown with 4–2 victory over Wheaton

The Tufts men’s soccer team made history with its first national championship, defeating Wheaton College (Illinois) 4–2 in the NCAA Division III tournament on Dec. 6 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Jumbos, who were playing in their fourth NCAA tournament, became giant slayers in the postseason, beating No. 1-ranked Messiah College as well as Ohio Wesleyan University and Wheaton, which have a combined 97 NCAA tournament appearances and 14 national championships. The closest the Jumbos have come before was the 2012 quarterfinals.

The men’s soccer team, which ended its season with a record of 16–2–4, joins women’s softball and men’s lacrosse as 2014 NCAA team champions; diver Johann Schmidt and hurdler Jana Hieber won individual NCAA titles this year.

In the championship game at the Swope Soccer Village, sophomore Nate Majumder notched two scores for the Jumbos, while junior Peter Kramer and senior Gus Santos added one apiece. Juniors Rui Pinheiro and Jason Kayne each had an assist.

During the opening minutes of play, possession was even as the two sides warmed up to each other. Wheaton hit its stride first, though, and began attacking Tufts. They had a shot on goal, but it was right at sophomore Scott Greenwood, who scooped it up. On a subsequent free kick from near the top of the box, Greenwood dove to his right for a miraculous deflection save.

Coach Josh Shapiro’s Jumbos capitalized on their opportunities. Senior Maxime Hoppenot sprinted onto a long ball sent in deep and was fouled hard just outside the box on the left side, creating a free kick chance. Pinheiro stood over it and sent in a beautiful service toward the near post that was mishandled by the Wheaton goalie and deflected off his leg before squeaking out to the middle of the goal mouth. Kramer came in hot from the weak side and blasted the ball into the open goal to put the Jumbos on the board first.

After the score, Wheaton pushed offensively, but Tufts held strong. The Thunder’s decision to play rather than to boot the ball up the field gave the Jumbos a chance to pack it in defensively, making it difficult for many of Wheaton’s shots to get through. The Thunder had several opportunities near the top of the box, where their middies hovered during the first half, but were not able to convert.

In the 37th minute, freshman Matt Zinner broke loose on the wing and started angling his run into the box, using deft touches to beat multiple defenders, when he was clipped from behind. The referee awarded Tufts a penalty kick, and Majumder calmly lasered the ball into the net for a 2–0 Jumbo advantage.

At the beginning of the second half, Hoppenot had a golden opportunity to increase the Jumbo lead, but his strike went wide for a corner kick instead. On the ensuing kick, an unintentional handball occurred in the box, and Santos stepped to the penalty spot and converted the shot before five minutes had elapsed in the frame. It was Santos’ fifth game-winning goal of the season and a team-leading 10th goal overall. Santos was named offensive player of the tournament.

The lead would prove to be insurmountable for the Thunder, but just barely. Just four minutes after the penalty kick, Jordan Golz ran onto a floated ball into the box and was taken out by Greenwood. A third penalty shot was awarded, and Wheaton's Noah Anthony knocked it into the left corner as Greenwood guessed wrong.

The surge continued as the Thunder switched their style of attack and began to open it up. Wheaton soon scored a second goal, narrowing the Jumbo lead to 3–2.

As the Thunder moved more men up offensively, it opened up holes in their defense for the Jumbos to attack. Near the 15-minute mark the Jumbos had a fantastic opportunity as Kayne made a move by his defender and raced into the 18 with Majumder on his right, who had a defenseman marking him. Kayne drew the goalie off his line and passed across to Majumder a couple yards away. Majumder took a touch to his left to evade the rush of Wheaton’s Matt Paprocki, but he launched the shot wide.

In the 81st minute, Majumder got his redemption. In almost an exact replica of the previous play, Kayne and Majumder found themselves in a breakaway situation with only the goalie and a couple defenders to beat. This time, the Jumbos converted as Kayne sent a ball across to Majumder, who sprinted to catch up with it and hit it near the post for the score. Majumder’s second mark of the day was the insurance goal the Jumbos needed to secure the victory and their first national championship.

While Wheaton led in shots (18 to Tufts’ 13) and corners (9 to Tufts’ 3), the Jumbos got the performance they needed out of every player. Greenwood made eight saves. In the final four games of the tournament, the Jumbos went up against teams that had their respective conference’s player of the year. The Jumbos proved their mettle by taking the toughest road in the tournament and coming out victors.

In the semifinal game on Dec. 5, the Jumbos dominated Ohio Wesleyan University, prevailing 3–0 on a rainy afternoon. Zinner scored once, and Santos netted two.

Right from the opening whistle, Tufts carried possession, and it didn’t take long to get on the board. Just under two minutes, Zinner, the freshman defender, found himself with the ball just inside the 18-yard box and soon struck a low ball on goal with his left foot. The goal was Zinner’s first of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The second half started much like the first, with the Jumbos coming out fast. Less than 10 minutes in, Connor Brown made a run down the middle of the field into the box and gave a leading pass wide right to Hoppenot. Hoppenot caught up with it and placed a pretty ball on the ground back toward the top of the box, where a streaking Santos ran onto it and one-timed a hard right-footer to give Tufts the 2–0 advantage.  

Just minutes later, right before the 60-minute mark, Santos struck again, rifling a low ball into the net for his second of the game. The tallies were Santos’ eighth and ninth marks of the season. 

It was Greenwood’s 11th shutout of the season and the Jumbos’ 12th overall.

Earlier, the Jumbos had beaten Messiah College, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Eliza Halmo is an intern in the Tufts Sports Information Department.

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