The men’s soccer team pulled off two stunning upsets over Middlebury and Amherst to win its first-ever NESCAC championship last weekend. The title earned the team the right to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

Both matches were settled with penalty shootouts after 110 minutes of scoreless play. Against Middlebury in the semifinal, goalkeeper Stevie Van Siclen ’18 made three saves in the shootout to secure a 3-2 victory. He made two more—including one that won the championships—the following day in the shootout against Amherst.

“To save five penalties out of 11 is kind of ridiculous,” Head Coach Scott Wiercinski said. “We see him do it in practice all the time, but it’s a lot less important in practice than it is in a conference final.”

 Van Siclen was named NESCAC Player of the Week after posting his fifth and sixth clean sheets of the season.

The sixth-seeded Polar Bears had  previously lost to both the fourth-seeded Panthers and second-seeded Lord Jeffs in the regular season, and were excited about their opportunities for revenge.

“I think we were really excited to play against Middlebury and Amherst again,” said captain Eric Goitia ’15. “Middlebury has two offensive guys that are very good goal scorers so that challenge was one that excited us, and I think the defense really stepped up to the plate there.” 

“Amherst is also a very powerful, aggressive team,” added Goitia. “We knew what we were getting into and were confident that we could handle that.”

Amherst had lost only one game all season, and Bowdoin’s win in the finals ended the Lord Jeffs’ streak of three consecutive NESCAC titles. It was only Bowdoin’s third appearance in the NESCAC final after losses to Wesleyan in 2003 and to Middlebury in 2010 on penalty kicks.
“We wanted to focus on our game and play the way that we play,” Goitia said. 

“We went into the games not worrying about what Amherst and Middlebury had necessarily done in the past, and more just focusing on what we could control and how we would play the game that we wanted to play,” Goitia continued.

In the semifinals, the Panthers had two fantastic opportunities to score in the second overtime period. However, Van Siclen made two timely saves—one a diving stop at his own goal line—to stay level at 0-0. Bowdoin’s best opportunity to score came in the 96th minute, when Thomas Henshall ’15 struck a shot from the right wing that skimmed off the crossbar. Middlebury held a 13-10 lead in shots, while Bowdoin led 6-3 in corner kicks.

 In the finals, Amherst had a chance to score in the 19th minute off a corner kick, but overshot the crossbar. Sam White ’15 and Henshall each produced shots on goal in the first half, but the Amherst keeper was there to deny them both. In the second half, Amherst held a 6-2 lead in shots, which included a shot that hit the post. Still, no team scored in regulation or overtime. Amherst had 17 shots to Bowdoin’s eight, but both teams had three on goal. Bowdoin led 11-4 on corner kicks.

“Our defense was fantastic,” Wiercinski said. “I thought the games were a little bit cagey and a little bit of a chess match. Nobody wanted to make a mistake, especially early in the games. But the defense has been getting better and better as a group in recent weeks. It’s really a long way from where we started the season when we gave up some goals that were kind of head scratchers.”

 In addition to fantastic defense, part of Bowdoin’s late-season success has come from a levelheaded approach from its senior leaders.

“I think our leaders have been awesome all season,” said Wiercinski. 

“Our senior captains and other seniors on the team that maybe aren’t dubbed captains have had a really mature approach to focusing on the next game, even after we had some difficult results. Even after we lost to Babson there wasn’t anybody second-guessing where the season was going, there was just a real streamlined approach to focusing on the next match.”

The team has also received some late-season help from players returning from injury.

“We had a couple guys who have been injured on and off throughout the year that are coming back and can hopefully continue to stay healthy as we go into the NCAA Tournament,” said Wiercinski.

Unfortunatley, Connor Keefe ’16, whose return to the field after a month sitting out with a concussion helped the Polar Bears secure a tournament bid, went down with a leg injury in overtime in the Amherst game and will be out for the Polar Bears’ tournament run.

The last time the team made it to the NCAA tournament in 2010 it also won the NESCAC championship in penalty kicks. 

Four years ago the team carried its momentum from the NESCAC tournament win all the way to the NCAA tournament semifinals, where its season ended in a 2-1 loss to Lynchburg College.

 Bowdoin will play SUNY Brockport at Brandeis at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA D-III tournament.

After a strong start to the season the Brockport Ellsworths have only won two of their last four games, including a semifinal loss to SUNY Cortland in the SUNYAC conference tournament last weekend. 

Still, its play early in the season was enough for the NCAA selection committee to grant the Ellsworths an at-large bid to the tournament—an honor the Polar Bears most likely would not have earned had the not won the NESCAC title.

“It’s going to be a good challenge,” said Wiercinski. “From our research they’re quite an athletic, physical and fast team. So it’ll be a good test—we’ll see where we’re at.”

If the Polar Bears beat SUNY Brockport tomorrow they will play the winner of Brandeis University and Husson University the following day.

Bowdoin beat Husson 4-0 earlier  this season.