Jeffs' season kicks into full swing

After a rewarding indoor winter season and concentrated spring and summer training, Amherst spent 12 days in August on an international soccer tour in France and Spain. Having played six games against high-level and professional competitors including Brazilian superstar and World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, the Jeffs return to the NESCAC with an improved technical game and some new tricks under their short sleeves.

Commitment in the offseason and recent experimentation with full-length sessions paid off for the Amherst men this weekend as they opened their long-awaited season on Saturday with a 1-0 win over conference competitor Trinity College. With 11 shots in the first half, Amherst had difficulty capitalizing on scoring opportunities until the 55:18 mark, when sophomore midfielder Taylor Downs found the back of the net with a header off of a ball served by junior Rob Madden to secure the only goal of the game. Senior Christian Alexander, supported by senior Jeremy Kelley, sophomore John Kneeland and rookie Grayson Holland ’09, led the Jeff defense in delivering solid resistance to Bantam offensive advances, allowing only three shots on goal, all of which senior goalkeeper Greg Lockwood easily saved to deliver his 13th career shutout. Lockwood described Saturday’s match as “much more difficult than it should have been.” He attributed this difficulty to some “early season bad luck in front of the neck,” but added that “once forwards Mike [Wohl ’07], Jake [Duker ’09], Joe [Martinez ’08] and Joe [Gannon ’06] get going, we’ll bury teams like that.” While the players admit that they may not have played what Downs described as “a pretty brand of soccer,” sophomore midfielder Jonathan Pryor contributed a simple but honest summary of the game with a shrug and the practical conclusion, “a win’s a win.”

The Amherst men rallied again on Sunday, capping off a successful weekend with a 2-1 victory over Roger Williams University. The Jeffs got off to a shaky start once again, unable to create clear scoring opportunities or to complete offensive challenges, finishing the first half with only seven shots. After a breakaway in the final minutes of the first half resulted in a Roger Williams goal, the Jeffs struggled to catch up and finally got on the board with 15 minutes left in play when Downs converted a corner kick by Pryor. First-year Nick Lynch sealed the game for the Jeffs just minutes later by intercepting a clear by Roger Williams goalkeeper Kevin Deegan and striking a powerful 40-yard shot that hit the left post and ricocheted into the goal. Once again, the Jeff defense proved almost impenetrable, allowing a miserly eight shots-only four of which were on goal.

The offensive star of the game was Downs, who earned NESCAC and ECAC Player of the Week honors for his two-goal weekend. Downs has already doubled his rookie season scoring output of one goal.

Wohl, a Second Team NSCAA/Adidas All-New England in 2004, put the weekend in perspective. “Our team was able to get done the only thing we cared about getting done this weekend, which was starting our season off 2-0,” he said. While the players admit that there is plenty of work to be done, the Jeffs leave their opening weekend with an undefeated record and a boost of well-deserved confidence.

Despite the devastating loss of senior co-captain Ian Lovett to injury, impressive performances by underclassmen, sound protection by returning defenders Alexander, Kelley and Kneeland, reliable goalkeeping by Lockwood and poised leadership by the team’s eight seniors suggest that Amherst is moving toward a long and triumphant season. “At certain times of both games we looked like a team that could win every game 4-0,” reflected Wohl. “Now we just need to play games from start to finish at that level, and we will accomplish some incredible things this season.”

Currently ranked first in the conference, the Jeffs play their next game in Lewiston, Me., against the Bates College Bobcats (0-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m.