Williams men's, women's soccer teams earn at-large bids to NCAAs
WILLIAMSTOWN — Sitting on the bubble isn't a lot of fun in college sports. But at least the bubble didn't burst for the Williams College men's soccer team.
"I was starting to wonder if I did something to upset the soccer gods," Williams coach Erin Sullivan said after finding out that his team earned its first NCAA Division III tournament berth since 2013, and Sullivan's first as head coach.
"Obviously, we're in a really tough conference [NESCAC], and the regular-season grind is a big part of being able to get to the NESCAC tournament, much less the NCAAs," Sullivan said. "Our team got a little bit better each year in grinding, and fortunately, we were one result better than the last couple, and that was just barely enough."
The Williams women will get a chance to defend their NCAA championship, as the Eph women also earned an at-large berth in their tournament.
The Williams men's and women's soccer teams are both bound for their respective tournaments. To win a national championship, both teams will take different roads.
Sullivan's men were the sixth of six NESCAC teams selected for the tournament, and Sullivan's squad will go to upstate New York for its first and second rounds. The Ephs will play Landmark Conference champion Elizabethtown in a pod hosted by SUNY Cortland.
Coach Michelyne Pinard's women may have lost the NESCAC tournament championship, but the Ephs are hosting first- and second-round games this weekend.
The Eph women, one of four NESCAC teams in the 64-team field, will host a pod and open against the University of New England.
There are only 62 teams in the men's tournament, and with the top three seeds in NESCAC having been dispatched before the semifinal round, a sixth-seeded Williams team might have needed a victory in the tournament championship to get in. That had Sullivan and the team sweating just a little bit when the selection show aired on NCAA.com Monday afternoon.
"We were at the tail end [of the show] so we were sweating it out," Sullivan said. "When Middlebury came up, we were a little concerned that's potentially the fifth team out of the league, and that they wouldn't take six."
Williams will board a bus for the 194-mile trip to Cortland, N.Y., which is south of Syracuse.
The Ephs (10-5-3), in their 19th tournament, will play a team in Elizabethtown (10-4-4) that is making its 26th NCAA appearance. The Blue Jays beat Catholic 1-0 to win its first-ever Landmark title. That game will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The 5:30 opener features SUNY Athletic Conference champion Cortland (15-2-2) and Newbury (11-4-4). Cortland, like Williams, is a Pool C (at-large) selection, while Newbury is the New England Collegiate Conference champion after beating Mitchell 1-0.
Amherst, Connecticut College, Middlebury and Tufts join Williams and Colby in the field.
Elsewhere, NESCAC tournament champion Colby will play in a pod at Montclair State. Amherst will play MASCAC champion Bridgewater State at home Saturday in a pod that includes Middlebury and St. Joseph's (Maine). Conn. College hosts a pod, and is in the same bracket with Amherst, Tufts and Middlebury. The Jumbos received a first-round bye.
The Ephs lost in the NESCAC championship game at Farley-Lamb Field on Sunday to Middlebury by a 1-0 score. Weather permitting, the Ephs (15-1-2) will be back on Cole Field for this weekend.
"We love playing on Cole," Pinard said in a release, "but at this point in the season, we are just happy to be playing. Only 64 teams in the country are able to say that, and we don't take that for granted."
The defending national champions will play Commonwealth Coast Conference champion New England (10-7-2). UNE beat Western New England 1-0 to claim the automatic bid after being the tournament's No. 3 seed. It is UNE's second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The other side of the pod will feature Empire Eight tournament champion Stevens Institute of Technology (15-2-0), against SUNY Geneseo (14-3-1), the SUNY Athletic Conference tournament champions.
Stevens has won its fourth consecutive Empire Eight title. The Ducks are familiar with Cole Field, as they were beaten by Brandeis last year in the first round.
Geneseo knocked off Cortland for the championship.
Tickets in Williamstown are $6 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and students and $2 for children ages 3-12.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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