Men's Soccer Reaches National Semifinals
Men’s soccer continued its hot streak with wins over SUNY Cortland and Middlebury, landing the team a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four for the second straight year. Key forward German Giammattei ’22 led the way, scoring four goals for the Mammoths.
It's been a season of ups and downs for men’s soccer. But right now, the trajectory is decidedly upward. Two wins last weekend at Hitchcock Field — 4-1 over SUNY Cortland on Saturday, Nov. 20 and 1-0 over Middlebury on Sunday, Nov. 21 — secured the Mammoths a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four for the second-straight year (the last was in 2019). The Mammoths were propelled by forward German Giammattei ’22, who contributed to all five of the team’s goals, scoring four and assisting one.
The Mammoths — the preseason number-two ranked team in the nation — fell in their second game of the season at Bowdoin and were dropped from the rankings. They worked their way back to a 12-2-1 regular season record and a top-10 ranking, but then were brought back to earth after losing to Colby in penalty kicks in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs.
Across the past two weekends, though, the Mammoths have run rampant on the national stage — scoring 13 goals and conceding just one en route to yet another berth in the national semifinal. Especially after last weekend, which saw difficult matchups against SUNY Cortland, the number-five ranked team in the nation, and conference rival Middlebury, the Mammoths have firmly reestablished themselves as title contenders. According to Head Coach Justin Serpone, they have their “swag” back.
SUNY Cortland ended up posing a more difficult challenge on paper than on Hitchcock Field.
Rather than waiting until late in the game, the Mammoths have made a habit of getting on the scoreboard early during this tournament run. The pattern held against the Red Dragons. In the 12th minute, forward Ada Okorogheye ’24 was tripped up by the Cortland keeper in the 18-yard box. The whistle blew and — despite protest from the Red Dragons — the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
There was no question who would take the shot: Giammattei stepped up and slotted the opener past the Red Dragons’ goalkeeper, who dove the wrong way, to give the Mammoths a 1-0 lead.
Almost as soon as play resumed, the Mammoths doubled their advantage, again through Giammattei. Sebastian Derby ’22 won possession on Cortland’s side following a poor pass out of the back from the Red Dragons’ goalie. Derby slid the ball to Giammattei, whose outside-of-the-boot finish would stand as the eventual game-winner.
Within just 12 minutes, the Mammoths found themselves in full control of the game, thanks, in large part, to the Cortland goalkeeper.
The onslaught continued in the 26th minute. Defender Ben Clark-Eden ’25 won possession then quickly moved the ball up the field to Giammattei. The forward added an assist to his two goals, playing a ball behind the Cortland back line for Okorogheye, whose calm finish extended the lead to 3-0.
The Mammoths entered halftime with the game essentially in their hands. They refused to stop at three, though. Just five minutes into the second half, an arching ball over the top found Giammattei, who seemingly could do no wrong on the day. Streaking toward goal, he brought the ball under control, cut inside, and secured his hattrick.
The Mammoths saw the game out comfortably, with the only blip coming in the 58th minute, when the Red Dragons were awarded, and scored, a penalty. It was the first goal the Amherst defense had conceded in over a month — putting an end to a streak of 617 goal-less minutes. It’s hard to imagine this is weighing heavily on the Mammoths’ minds though. Ultimately, there is one central aim in an elimination tournament: in the words of legendary college basketball player and coach Jim Valvano, “Survive and advance.”
And Amherst advanced.
The notoriously defensive Middlebury Panthers gave the Mammoths one of their toughest games of the season in early October, in NESCAC regular-season play. Then, too, the Mammoths came away with a 1-0 victory.
One would expect a win-or-go-home matchup between two defensive juggernauts to be a physical slogfest, but the contest at Hitchcock Field was anything but — especially in the first half. In October, the two teams combined for just 13 shots total. On Nov. 21, they surpassed that mark in just 33 minutes, eventually mustering a combined 26 attempts, with 17 of those on goal.
The game could have swung either direction in the first half. In the 25th minute, the Panthers came within inches of scoring: an in-swinging Middlebury corner brushed the Amherst goalline, but was cleared away by Amherst keeper Kofi Hope-Gund ’22.
A few minutes later, the forward duo that has proven so lethal throughout the tournament — Okorgheye and Giammattei — found themselves with a two-on-one in the Panthers’ half. Giammattei threaded the ball through for Okorogheye, but the Middlebury keeper blocked his point-blank effort with an outstretched leg.
Chances continued to flow on both ends of the field, but solid defending and goalkeeping by both teams had a halftime stalemate looking increasingly imminent.
But then, in the 44th minute, the Mammoths found the opener via — who else? — Giammattei. A well-placed, looping ball was played over the top of the Panthers defense. The Amherst number nine corralled it, then flicked it back into the air over a Middlebury defender, who promptly crumpled to the ground. He then continued his run into the box, cutting left across a second Panther before firing a shot past the goalkeeper.
Still, it took more than Giammattei’s heroics to see out the win. Middlebury dominated the second half, as the Panthers flooded forward in search of the equalizer. They put up eight shots to the Mammoths’ zero in the period, forcing Hope-Gund to make six saves — a number of them highlight-worthy. At many points, a Middlebury goal seemed almost inevitable, but the Mammoths’ defense always had an answer. The weekend, dominated by Giammattei’s offensive prowess, could have ended in despair if it weren’t for Hope-Gund’s gloves.
But the defensive line held, and the Mammoths are still dancing. Before this season, there wasn’t a player on the Amherst roster — first year to fifth-year senior — who could say they had beaten Middlebury. After last Sunday, they can all boast having done so twice in the same season.
Giammattei, a senior, ended his storied career at Hitchcock Field on a high note. He has 45 goals and 12 assists in 60 career games for the Mammoths, and he will never play another game in Amherst, Mass. His eyes are still fixed on the future, though. “It’s sad,” he said “but I still haven’t thought about it much.” Mostly, he and the team are “excited to play [in the Final Four].”
Serpone doesn’t seem overly surprised to see his team in this position. To him, the season has not been the roller coaster that some may make it out to be. The few times the Mammoths stumbled — losing to Bowdoin, Tufts, and Colby; drawing with Wesleyan — were less a result of poor play than bad luck in front of goal. “We were getting chances, we just weren’t scoring goals,” he said.
Four playoff games, 13 goals — goal-scoring no longer seems to be Amherst’s problem.
They face the 16-5-1 University of Chicago Maroons this coming Friday, Dec. 3 at 7:45 p.m., in Greensboro, N.C. Washington & Lee and conference rivals Connecticut College will meet in the other semifinal, with the winners of Friday’s games advancing to the national championship game on Saturday, Dec. 4.