Double reason to celebrate for Conn College soccer programs

New London — Connecticut College celebrated school history on Monday when both soccer programs qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament.

That's never happened before in the same season.

Both men's and women's teams took similar routes to the postseason. They enjoyed highly-successful regular seasons, stumbled in the New England Small College Athletic Conference quarterfinals and still made the NCAA field by earning at-large bids.

"It's a great day for Camel Nation and Connecticut College," women's coach Norm Riker said. "Obviously, both teams support one another and we practiced next to each other. We're thrilled for them. They've been knocking on the door. They've had a great season."

It will be the fourth overall NCAA appearance, third in four years, for the women while the men qualified for the second time and first since 1995.

Riker had faith that the Camels (12-3-1) would qualify based on their strong resume. As of last week, they were ranked third in the NCAA New England regional rankings and 20th in the country. His program's previous success in the tournament, winning a first round game in both 2016 and 2014, helped their case.

Still, it felt good to see Conn College appear in the bracket, facing Wilkes University (13-3-1), the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom regular season champion and conference tournament runner-up. The first-round game is 1:30 p.m. Saturday at John Hopkins in Baltimore. The winner meets the survivor of John Hopkins (15-2-3) versus Staten Island (13-5-1) on Sunday at 1 p.m.

"When some other teams got in, I knew we were in but I didn't have the confirmation," Riker said. "I needed to hear it."

In the men's tournament, Conn (9-3-4) will face Rochester (11-3-3) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Oneonta's Red Dragon Field. Rochester, which also received an at-large bid, will be competing in its 18th NCAA tournament, 11th in the last 13 seasons. The Yellowjackets finished third in the University Athletic Association.

Men's coach Kenny Murphy also was confident his team would be in the field. The Camels benefited from playing in the NESCAC, considered the best conference in the country.

"Our body of work and strength of schedule were factors," Murphy said. "Five NESCAC schools got in. That played a role for sure."

In his ninth season, Murphy has turned the program into a consistent winner, recording double digit victories in a school-best three straight seasons.

The Camels are happy that their season didn't end with a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to Middlebury on Oct. 28 in the NESCAC quarterfinals. They went 0-2-1 in their final three games after starting the season 9-1-3.

While waiting to learn their postseason fate, they continued to practice.

"Friday was best practice we had all year, they were flying," Murphy said. "They kept their attitude and kept their hope alive. I couldn't be happier for the group, they deserve it. It's been a real treat to coach them."

g.keefe@theday.com

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