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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Conn College advances in NCAA Div. III men's soccer tourney

    Connecticut College men's soccer players Jorge Mendo, left, and Augie Djerdjaj celebrate after beating New York University 3-0 on Sunday in a NCAA Division III tournament game on Freeman Field in New London. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    New London — Moments after his well-placed header found the back of the net and sent the home crowd into a frenzy, senior MT Tshuma ran toward the corner flag to celebrate.

    Tshuma was mobbed by his Connecticut College teammates.

    The 60th minute goal broke a scoreless tie and put the Camels, who had dominated play up to that point but had nothing to show for, in a much more comfortable position in the Division III NCAA tournament second round game on Sunday.

    It would be the first of three post goal-scoring mob scenes for the Camels in the second half.

    Juniors Steve Yeonas and Augie Djerdjaj each scored to cap off Conn College's impressive showing and finish off New York University, 3-0, at Freeman Field. The sixth-ranked Camels (15-4-1) broke the program record for victories in the season set in 1978 while moving on to the third round for the second straight postseason.

    "Feel good and feel confident," coach Reuben Burk said. "But we still want to keep taking the program further. We've been to the Sweet 16 before and Elite Eight before. You have to keep improving and you have to be self-critical and we have to keep finding ways to improve so we do make school history."

    The win capped a wildly successful weekend for Conn, which needed penalty kicks to eliminate Salem State Saturday and then played a terrific all-around game on Sunday.

    "It's super exciting," Djerdjaj said. "Our freshmen year we got a taste of it when we hosted. Unfortunately, we lost in the round of 32 that year (2018). Getting an opportunity to once again play in front of our home crowd in the tournament, we wanted to take full advantage of it and not take anything for granted."

    The Camels controlled Sunday's game, holding a substantial edge in ball possession and quality goal scoring chances. They had far more shots on goal (9-2) and corner kicks (8-0) than the Violets (11-6-1).

    An alert and aggressive defense, anchored by goalie Sam Maidenberg who made two saves, consistently cut off counter-attack opportunities.

    "We played as a team," Tshuma said. "We defended as a team from the top all the way to the goalkeeper."

    The game was scoreless at the half. NYU senior goalie Nick Vafiadis made a great high-flying save to keep the Camels off the scoreboard.

    Conn, which was shutout in its two previous games, finally broke through with 30 minutes, 35 seconds remaining.

    Set up on the left side, sophomore Rye Jaran lofted a free kick into a crowd in front of the goal. Tshuma, who was cutting across the box, hit a glancing header into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

    "I normally don't score from headers," Tshuma said. "I took a chance. We've been practicing set pieces so much. I'm glad I got to get on the end of that one."

    It's been a tough season for Tshuma who has battled a lower back and a hip flexor injury. It was his third goal of the season.

    "Maybe that was the most rewarding thing is seeing him be healthy and get on the score sheet," Burk said.

    The Camels avoided any post-goal letdown and kept the pressure on.

    About 10 minutes later, they scored again.

    Sophomore Jack Creus was tripped in the box and Yeonas converted the penalty kick for a 2-0 edge.

    Then Djerdjaj, the NESCAC player of the year, capped off the day with a beautiful solo effort, shaking defenders in the corner and blasting a laser into the upper far corner with about three and a half minutes remaining.

    Burk could finally relax.

    "About two minutes left," said Burk when asked when he started feeling comfortable. "When you're been around the block enough, you've seen so many late goals so you know anything is possible. Certainly the third goal helped."

    Next up for Conn College is a third round game against Redlands on Friday at a time and site yet to be determined. In their last NCAA trip in 2019, the Camels advanced to the quarterfinals.

    "We've got basically an entirely new group from when we went in 2019, but I think we're just as well prepared," Djerdjaj said. "We just want to keep our season going as long as possible right now. We've got another week of practice to prepare. ... This group is special and we're ready to go."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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