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Soccer seasons end in heartbreak

If there is one thing that can be said about the seasons of both Men’s and Women’s Soccer, it is that both squads never gave up. This week, both teams saw their seasons end in heartbreaking MIAC-playoffs fashion. An unfortunate end, to be sure, to strong campaigns by both sides. The Knights refused to go down without a fight, however, as the Men defeated St. Olaf for the second time in a week in the first round of the MIAC playoffs, before losing less than twenty-four hours later to St. Thomas. Carleton Women’s Soccer did not reach the second round, but took the higher-seeded College of St. Benedict down to the wire, allowing a goal in the eighty-eighth minute to lose 3-2.

The two teams entered 2019 coming off seemingly opposite 2018 results. On the women’s side, the Knights could not buy a goal in 2018. Carleton was one of three programs whose goal totals tallied in the single digits. 9 goals scored in eleven games earned Carleton a 2-6-3 record, good for eighth place out of twelve in the MIAC. Fortunately for the Knights, the arrival of first-years Cate Patterson and Rainey Tilley, the Knights’ two leading goal scorers, injected some life into the Knights’ attack. Thanks to Tilley and Patterson, in addition to the development of striker Lily Hurtubise ’22, Carleton finished third in MIAC goals scored, more than doubling their total from the previous year.

The Knights backs were to the wall against the Bennies on Tuesday. Down 2-0 with ten minutes left, after two goals by CSB sophomore Roxy Veldman, the Knights needed to find some sort of momentum. Emma Wasend ’20 answered the call, scoring in the eighty-first minute off a pass from Laura Kiernan ’20 to cut the deficit to one. Six minutes later, Patterson tied it up, leaving the Knights only three minutes from forcing an overtime period. Unfortunately for the Knights, St. Ben’s was quick to respond, scoring only a minute and a half later, to put the game away and end the Knights’ season.

As Carleton Women’s Soccer closes the book on 2019, for the Knights, it’s not too early to start thinking about 2020. The Knights will lose a fair amount of leadership, as Carleton’s third all-time leading scorer Nora Mertz, and three-fourths of their defensive line in Kiernan, Julia Kenney, and Anika Thomas-Toth, will graduate.

The men’s team entered 2019 as defending MIAC champions. Despite losing Mark Roth ’19, the 2018 MIAC Player of the Year, the Knights returned a good chunk of their core. As such, they were picked to finish first in the conference by MIAC coaches in this season’s preseason poll. As a team with “championship or bust” aspirations, Carleton Men’s Soccer disappointed. The Knights finished in third place with a record of 6-3-1.

The eight point difference between the Knights and league-leading St. Thomas and Gustavus Adolphus does not tell the full story to midfielder Charlie Hall ’22: “This year, the two teams at the top of the MIAC were ahead of the rest by more points than usual, but that does not reflect a lack of competitiveness at all. If you look at the results from the season, the majority of games are decided by one or two goals, with many going to overtime. We truly believe that from top to bottom, the MIAC is one of the most competitive DIII conferences in the country. On any given day, any team can beat anyone else as games are decided by key plays when someone steps up to make a special play or makes a bad mistake. Success in the MIAC is difficult to achieve, but MIAC soccer is always exciting.”

As a result of said competition, the Knights dropped to third, pushing them out of position to secure a first-round bye in the MIAC tournament. That bye is absolutely critical for a team looking to be crowned champion, as not playing in the first round puts the top two seeds at massive advantages. As the MIAC tournament is set up, the semi-final games, between the top two seeds and the winners of the two first rounders, take place only a day after the first-round matchups. The teams that are fortunate enough to move onto the semis must compete with the league’s best teams on tired legs. For context, there are at least two full days between regular season MIAC contests, assuming the weather does not muddy the schedule. To play on back to back days is to run the risk of total exhaustion and injury with a given team’s starters, or roll the dice with players that do not see the field as much. The Knights benefited from this poor scheduling last season, as Macalester looked visibly slower in the second half of Carleton’s 1-0 semi-final victory. This year’s Knights were required to play St. Thomas on the road about twenty hours after their victory over St. Olaf, a game which they would lose 3-0.

“Of course we were at a bit of a disadvantage playing games two days in a row while St. Thomas didn’t have to, but honestly I don’t think fatigue had a huge effect on the result,” Hall said of the loss. “We did have a few important players nursing small injuries that were made worse by playing the day before, so that was probably the main impact. However, I think we played a fairly even game with them, and the game was decided by a few plays, including a couple calls by the ref that didn’t go our way, so fatigue was not to blame.”

There is no doubt the Knights will be back with a vengeance next year. They will only lose one starting player in center back Kamran Kelly ’20. Unless a first-year is able to compete right away, it appears likely that stellar rising sophomore Justin Crawmer will slide from right back to center back, and the capable Jack Schill ’21 will man the right side for the Knights in 2020.

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