Conn College men looking to make some noise in first NCAA trip in 22 years

Connecticut College men's soccer coach Kenny Murphy watches as his team warms up before practice earlier this week at Silfen Field in New London. The Camels have earned an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 1995.    (Tim Cook/The Day)
Connecticut College men's soccer coach Kenny Murphy watches as his team warms up before practice earlier this week at Silfen Field in New London. The Camels have earned an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 1995. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London — Without any recent experience, Connecticut College can only imagine what the men's soccer program's first NCAA appearance since 1995 will be like this weekend.

The Camels can't wait to find out.

"I definitely think there will be level of excitement we haven't experienced before," junior Ben Manoogian said.

Coach Kenny Murphy can clue his Camels (9-3-4) in on postseason play before they travel to Oneonta, N.Y., to face Rochester (11-3-3) in NCAA first-round action at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Murphy has previous NCAA experience as an assistant coach at Brown University where he made four trips and during his playing days at UConn where he contributed to three postseason berths.

You can hear the excitement his voice when talking about his team's upcoming NCAA trip, only the second overall in program history.

"It's fantastic," Murphy said. "It's a buzz. This is what it's about. It's all about getting in the tournament and we tell the kids that. It's electric and they know it now now they're experiencing it. And they'll see it when they get there. ... It will be special. It's something that they definitely will remember for the rest of their lives."

Or if the Camels want to hear postseason stories from another source, they can talk to assistant coach Michael Kovach, who played on two national championship teams (2012, 2013) at Division III powerhouse Messiah College.

Kovach has helped Murphy built a winning culture for the program.

"We're all about the culture," Murphy said. "And Mike coming from Messiah, it just solidified hearing it from a like-age peer. He's meant a lot. He's done a great job. He's around the kids a lot. That's a huge piece, because they don't listen to me; I'm too old."

Rochester has a significant edge in NCAA tournament experience, qualifying 11 of the last 13 seasons. Both programs earned at-large bids. The winner advances to meet either SUNY Oneonta (15-1-2) or WPI (13-5-2) in Sunday's second round.

Conn College may deal with some postseason jitters at the start of Saturday's game but likely won't be overwhelmed by the big stage.

The Camels played their share of marquee games competing in the challenging New England Small College Athletic Conference, including fighting defending national champion Tufts to a scoreless tie in mid-September.

"Playing in the NESAC gives us good preparation because every NESCAC game is like a tournament game," Murphy said. "The intensity is there regardless whether you are playing Tufts or the team at the bottom of the table. If you come into a game not ready, you'll get embarrassed. I think the league prepares us well. We'll see."

The Camels started to build for this season's impressive run last fall. Two days after a season-ending loss in the NESCAC tournament quarterfinals, they were in the weight room at 5:30 a.m. on a Monday.

"We were willing to put in the work," senior Nate Summers said. "We were disappointed in going out early. We were just hungry."

Relying on a strong blend of veterans and talented newcomers, Conn College bolted out to an 8-0-3 start this fall.

Freshman A.J. Marcucci, a 6-foot-2 goalie, is having an All-NESCAC type season, posting a stingy 0.54 goals against average and six shutouts. His dominating presence gives confidence to his back line of defenders. The Camels have outscored foes 31-10, with Manoogian (eight goals, including three game-winners), freshman Liam Noonan (four goals, team-high five assists) and junior Ben Highton (four goals, four assists) fueling the attack.

They appeared to put their NCAA bid in jeopardy after losing to Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinals, leading to some long days before the NCAA selection show Monday.

"For about 10 days, we sat in our room at night and just went back and forth pretty much debating whether we were going to get in," Summers said. "At first, I thought we had no chance."

Now that they're in the field, the Camels are determined to stick it out past the first round. They've worked too hard to exit early.

"We're going to try to make a little noise in the big dance," Summers said.

Not matter what happens on this weekend, the Camels can feel good about the state of the program. They've won 29 games overall in the last three seasons.

"We're definitely going forward," Murphy said. "You look at this team, I've only got three seniors. ... So this is a young team. And I have freshmen that are core players already. ... Now the question is, you achieved your goals and got to the tournament, can you do it again next year?

"But we're not worried about that right now. It's just win and advance and find a way."

g.keefe@theday.com

The Connecticut College men's soccer team warms up before practice Tuesday in New London. The Camels (9-3-4) will play Rochester (11-3-3) in a Division III NCAA tournament first-round game Saturday in Oneonta, N.Y. (Tim Cook/The Day)
The Connecticut College men's soccer team warms up before practice Tuesday in New London. The Camels (9-3-4) will play Rochester (11-3-3) in a Division III NCAA tournament first-round game Saturday in Oneonta, N.Y. (Tim Cook/The Day)
The Connecticut College men's soccer team huddles before the start of practice this week. (Tim Cook/The Day)
The Connecticut College men's soccer team huddles before the start of practice this week. (Tim Cook/The Day)

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