SAN ANTONIO, TX. -- Members of the Williams College men's soccer team and its coaching staff went through a busy second day down South in preparation of facing defending national champion Messiah College in the national semifinals scheduled for 8:30 p.m. (EST) Friday.
The Falcons (20-1-1) and Ephs (15-6) will play the fourth and final national semifinal (two women's games, then two men's) at Toyota Field, home of the North American Soccer League's San Antonio Scorpions. Williams got its first look at the 8,000-seat stadium Thursday morning with a 9:20 walk through that included all of the men's final four participiants.
After a brief walk across the parking lot to the Star Soccer Complex, assistant coaches Tom Demeo, Derek Cece and Jeff Huffman ran the squad through an hour-long practice. From there it was a short bus ride to Lady Bird Johnson Park, home of the Lou Hamilton Community Center, where the Ephs took part in a beautification project that included them picking up debris, spreading mulch and planting flowers in front of the center for 30-to-45 minutes.
"It was definitely a special thing," said senior co-captain Peter Morrell. "We usually are working toward our soccer goals, and it was kind of neat to put our energies toward something else for a change and I think it brought the guys together as well."
Because of the uncommon cold day in San Antonio, the wind chill made it feel as cool as 35 degrees at times, a 25-minute clinic with area Special Olympians was cancelled. But coaches Cece and Demeo did get a chance to delve out a Williams men's soccer gold t-shirt to every Special Olympian before they departed the park.
After lunching at an area Chipolte restaurant, the boys had a nearly four-hour break before the NCAA Final Four banquet held in the team's hotel. Senior co-captain Dan Lima was the featured speaker for the Ephs.
Following the banquet, a hastily arranged formal team photo preceded a boat ride through the famous San Antonio river walk that wrapped up the day.
Another Look at Messiah-Williams
The Falcons (20-1-1) outscored its four NCAA Tournament opponents 18-3 to earn the right to return San Antonio and defend its national championship from a year ago. Messiah is making its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance in all, and has won four of the last five national titles and seven of the last nine. This will be their 14th Final Four appearance.
The Falcons are unbeaten in their last 15 games (14-0-1). Their lineup includes seven double-digit point scorers led by Joshua Wood (21g, 5a), Jeremy Payne(15g, 9a), and Jack Thompson (5g, 17a). Mike Kovach (6g, 9a), Danny Brandt (7g, 2a), Sheldon Myer (5g, 5a), and Brian Ramirez (5g, 4a) round out that group.
Brandon West is also a standout in the goal, and carries a 0.55 goals against average (GAA) and a .760 save percentage across 24 starts.
"Tomorrow is not just going to be a challenge," said Eph assistant coach Tom Demeo. "Tomorrow is playing for keeps. Our boys will have to play the game of their lives and in order to do that, we'll need all pistons firing, defend well, win the ball collectively and score goals. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Williams is 7-3 in its last 10 games, but 6-1 in the postseaason. The Ephs defeated Middlebury (3-2) and Wesleyan (2-1) in the NESCAC Tournament before falling to Amherst 1-0 in the conference championship game.
They opened the NCAA Tournament with a 4-0 victory over Elms, defeated Western New England 4-1in the second round — both games at home on Cole Field — then traveled to Amherst where they bested No. 20 Brandeis 2-0 and then upset No. 5 Amherst 1-0 in the national quarterfinals.
The Ephs have five different players with double-digit point totals with Matt Muralles (7g, 3a) and Mohammed Rashid (5g, 5a) leading the way. Matt Kastner (5g, 3a) and Jonathan Westling (5g, 1a) follow while Chris Conder (2g, 6a) round out the group. Conder has eight of his 10 points in the four NCAA Tournament games, including game-winning goals in the last two games.
Peter Morrell has started all 21 games this season and owns a 0.81 GAA with a .823 save percentage.
In Friday's first semifinal at 6 PM (EST) Loras College (19-1-3) will battle Rutgers-Camden (22-0-2).