After the men’s soccer team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday, Yale head coach Brian Tompkins delivered an emotional speech emphasizing the historical implications of the Bulldogs’ postseason berth.
Tompkins urged his team not just to think of themselves when preparing for the College Cup, but to also remember the “98 years of this program, and all the players who have worn that Yale jersey proudly.”
The Bulldogs (10-3-4, 5-1-1 Ivy) hope to honor their Eli soccer ancestors when they host Stony Brook (12-4-4) in the first round of the NCAA College Cup on Friday. Although the emotions and hype of Tournament time can be overwhelming, the Elis have settled down from Monday’s excitement and gone about business as usual this week.
“We are so focused, and everyone is taking [practice] very seriously,” defender Jordan Rieger ’07 said. “One of our goals this year has been to improve every day, and it’s been that same attitude all week. We’re ready.”
Friday’s contest is a battle between Tournament novices. Between the two teams, there is only one player who has any postseason experience, and that was when he was playing for another team (Stony Brook’s Chris Megaloudis played in the 2003 Tournament with St. Peters College). While Stony Brook is in the Cup for the first time in school history, Yale is making its first Tournament appearance since 1999. Putting all statistics and positional matchups aside, the team that handles the postseason pressure the best will gain a significant advantage.
This is not to say that either team has shown a tendency to wilt in big games. The Seawolves survived back-to-back overtime thrillers in their conference tournament to win their first America East Championship in program history.
Similarly, the young Elis have been clutch in high-stakes situations. The Bulldogs suffered a devastating loss to Boston College on Nov. 1 that threatened their postseason dreams. But the Elis showed no lingering effects of the defeat in their Nov. 5 upset of a Brown team that was previously undefeated in league play.
Even more impressive was the work the Elis did at Princeton the following week. It might have been easy for Yale to get caught up in what Brown and Dartmouth did that weekend and look past an underperforming Tigers club. But the Elis kept a level head and survived the physical contest, 1-0, against a Princeton team determined to play postseason spoiler.
As has been the case all year, the Elis have put the past behind them and are focusing on the task at hand: containing a dangerous Stony Brook offense. The Seawolves possess a trio of offensive studs who terrorized the America East all season long. Michael Palacio, Megaloudis and Douglas Navarez have 25, 21 and 20 points respectively. Palacio leads the team in assists (11) and is tied with Megaloudis for most goals with seven.
Tompkins said containing those three is the key to stopping Stony Brook as a whole.
“Megaloudis, Palacio and Navarez are all highly respected attacking players,” Tompkins said “These are guys who can change the course of the game. We need to limit their opportunities and really be on our toes defensively.”
But Yale has its fair share of playmakers, including unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection Alex Munns ’07. Munns leads the team in points and goals, with 17 and seven, respectively, and is second in assists with three. Second-team All-Ivy Gage Hills ’07 and honorable mention Jon Carlos ’09 are behind Munns with eight points apiece.
Though respectful of their opponent’s abilities, Tompkins and the Bulldogs seem confident in their own merits as well.
“I told the guys just not to forget what got us here, what has given us this opportunity,” he said. “Believe in what you’re doing and compete hard.”
In the end, it just might be the Yale fans who give the Bulldogs the most pivotal advantage of all. Tompkins, who said he expects Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium to be more electric on Friday than ever, does not underestimate the impact the home crowd has had on his team.
“We’ve had the best fans in the Ivy league all season,” he said. “They contributed much more than they know to the success that we’ve had.”
Midfielder James Stewart ’07 also said that the crowd’s emotions are a source of energy, not a distraction.
“The bigger the crowd the better,” Stewart said. “We really feed off their energy, and as long as we just stick to our game plan then [the postseason atmosphere] shouldn’t be a factor.”