Amherst men’s soccer is for real.
It’s hard to come to any other conclusion after this past weekend, which saw the Mammoths take down archrival Williams College 2-1 at home on Saturday, Oct. 2 before grinding out a 1-0 away victory over Middlebury College, who had entered the weekend undefeated.
The Mammoths have now won seven straight games and hold the best overall record in the NESCAC at 8-1.
The first few minutes of the Williams game were wide open, with scoring chances on both ends. With a large crowd in the stands at Hitchcock Field, though, the Mammoths began to settle into the game, commanding the midfield and winning aerial duels.
Amherst took a major blow when, just 15 minutes into the contest, goalkeeper Bernie White ’22 was forced out of the game with an injury. He had been one of the Mammoth’s best players all season — allowing just one goal. Kofi Hope-Gund ’22 came off the bench, making his first appearance between the sticks this season.
He had little work to do for the rest of the first half, however. The Mammoths largely dominated the possession, outshooting the Ephs 12-4. Hope-Gund wasn’t called on to make a single save in the period. On the offensive end, Amherst created half-chance after half-chance. The Mammoths took shots from deep and sent balls into the box, but they failed to find the opener.
They came into the second period firing, though. Williams goalkeeper Ben Diffley made two excellent saves, each time denying Amherst forward German Giammattei ’22 from near point-blank range.
The dam could not hold forever though. The Mammoths found their opener in the 60th minute, as Ada Okorogheye ’24 — who was dribbling past Eph defenders all afternoon — beat his man down the left before cutting it back for Nico Kenary ’23, who fired a hard, side-footed shot over Diffley’s outstretched hands. It was Kenary’s first goal of the season.
Less than 30 seconds later, with Amherst fans still celebrating and the PA system still announcing the Mammoths’ goal, the Ephs fired back with the equalizer. Immediately after play resumed, a long ball from the back found Ephs forward Nathan Song. He laid it off for Jake Suadek, who slotted the ball into the left side netting from 23 yards out.
After Williams' goal, it seemed an entirely different game. Having played reactively through the first 60 minutes and struggling to absorb Amherst’s pressure, the Ephs began to dictate the game. They were able to string passes together in the Amherst half and find a few good looks on net.
With about 15 minutes left to play, though, the rattled Mammoths seemed to regain their footing. They began to ramp up the offensive pressure and earned a series of corner kicks.
In the 83rd minute, Okorogheye dribbled around an Ephs defender and was fouled a few yards outside the box. The Mammoths flooded into the box, awaiting the free kick.
He and Ignacio Cubeddu ’23, standing over the free kick on the right side of the box, saw the same thing: “They were in zone defense, and I guess they didn’t set it up properly,” said Giammattei. “The whole front post was open.”
He made a curling run from the left side of the box toward the right post. Cubeddu delivered a low, hard cross. Giammattei took the ball out of the air with his right foot, threading the needle between the Ephs’ keeper and the near post. The goal, which put the Mammoths up 2-1, was his fourth of the year and undoubtedly his most important.
The Mammoth backline stayed vigilant through the last 10 minutes of play, stamping out Williams’ final few desperate forays into the box. With the win, Amherst is now 3-1-1 in its last five meetings with the Ephs.
On Sunday, the Mammoths headed up to Vermont to face No. 6 Middlebury in what was, on paper, the harder matchup of the weekend.
Head Coach Justin Serpone described the Mammoths’ 1-0 win over the notoriously defensive-minded Panthers as his team’s “better” performance of the two, after the Williams game — between two opponents that prefer to press high up the field — became “a little too open.”
Middlebury mustered just five shots all game. Hope-Gund, who continued in place of the injured White, was forced to make just one save.
The Amherst offense was relatively quiet, too, taking just eight shots after a 23-shot performance against Williams.
All it took was one shot to give the Mammoths the result they wanted, though. In the 22nd minute, a free kick found the feet of Giammattei near the penalty spot. He lost his balance but was able to roll the ball towards Sebastian Derby ’22, who sent a left-footed rocket to the top-right corner.
Serpone said that the Middlebury win was especially meaningful for his players. For the many seniors on the roster, the Panthers were the only NESCAC team they had not beaten. The team was desperate to take revenge, no one more so than the goalscorer himself.
“Derby’s been talking about beating Middlebury for the last two years,” Serpone said. “You couldn’t have written a better story.”
The wins moved Amherst up to number 13 in the NCAA Division III coaches poll.
It’s not all that surprising that the Mammoths, who entered the season as the number-two team in the country and are coming off a 2019 season in which they made the national final, are in this position after nine games.
Still, after a 1-0 loss to Bowdoin in the second game of the season, the team felt that many people immediately wrote them off, said Serpone.
“People started to forget about us,” he said. “We were motivated by that.”
The results speak for themselves: across the past seven games, the Mammoths have outscored opponents 11-1.
They will look to keep the train rolling in another NESCAC double-header next weekend, traveling to Middletown, Conn. to face Wesleyan on Saturday, Oct. 9, before a matchup with Bates at Hitchcock Field on Sunday, Oct. 10.