Conn College men advance to NCAA Div. III soccer final with 2-1 OT win
The Connecticut College men's soccer team made a memorable debut in the NCAA Division III tournament semifinals on Friday, one that will forever live in the school's record books.
Junior Steve Yeonas headed in a crossing pass from sophomore Ryan Jaran with 54 seconds left in the first sudden death overtime to rally the sixth-ranked Camels past No. 1 Washington & Lee, 2-1, in a thriller at University of North Carolina Greensboro Soccer Stadium.
The Camels (18-4-1) will attempt to win the school's first team national title at 7 p.m. Saturday, facing New England Small College Athletic Conference rival Amherst, which defeated the University of Chicago 1-0 in sudden death OT.
"It was nerve-racking, for sure," coach Reuben Burk said by phone after the historic win. "To go down 1-0 is a really tough situation. Two really even teams. To pull it out in the end was pretty surreal. I guess that's what we've been doing all season."
Conn College has delivered in clutch this season, winning 11 games by one goal, including the last three NCAA tourney battles.
On Friday, they trailed 1-0 at the 73:38 mark but never panicked.
"They believe in our brand of football," Burk said. "They have the belief and the character to keep fighting to the end."
Playing with a man advantage after Washington & Lee's Michael Kutsanzira received his second yellow card, earning him a red, with four minutes remaining in regulation, Conn College patiently controlled possession in the first overtime before producing the golden goal.
A hustling Yeonas slipped inside his defender on the goal's doorstep and dove to head home the game-winner. It was his fifth goal of the season and Jaran's team-best eighth assist.
"Steve showed determination to beat his man, get on the inside shoulder and get first contact with the ball," Burk said. "A beautiful cross put in perfectly by Rye.
MT Tshuma, one of three seniors on the team, scored the first goal of the semifinal match, blasting a right-footed laser from 25 yards out off the far post and into the goal to deadlock the game at 1-1 in the 83rd minute.
After an even first half, the game opened up.
Conn College and Washington & Lee (18-2-2) traded quality scoring chances.
Tshuma's looping, spinning shot bounced off the crossbar. Washington & Lee's PJ Ryan hit a hard roller past the far post.
Then Michael Kutsanzira, who attended Putnam Science Academy, nearly put the Generals ahead as his free kick hit the crossbar.
Conn College junior goalie Sam Maidenberg made his best save with about 21 minutes remaining, diving to smother Connor Wharton's shot.
Washington & Lee finally broke through, as sophomore Adrian Zimmerman found space and time inside the box, collected a pass and turned and fired in for a 1-0 lead with 16:21 left. He extended his NCAA tournament goal scoring record to 11.
"We did a relatively good job on him," Burk said of Zimmerman. "He wasn't able to turn much on the ball. He was definitely getting frustrated, but he was able to get free in the box."
Tshuma's team-best sixth goal of the season forced overtime and the Camels pulled out the dramatic victory.
Conn's sound, sure-tackling defense limited a powerful Washington & Lee attack that had scored 14 goals through the first five NCAA tourney games to just two shots on goal. Maidenberg had two saves to earn his single-season school record 16th win.
Prior to Friday's game, the 1999 men's basketball team was the only other Conn College program to advance to a Final Four.
Conn College planned on soaking in its semifinal win Friday night before preparing for its first ever national championship game appearance.
"They're still flying high, for sure," Burk said. "We'll have dinner at the hotel and get them in the pool for a recovery session and scout the (other semifinal) winner in the morning."