Men’s Soccer Returns to Sweet 16 for 12th Straight Year

The No. 6 men’s soccer team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 12th straight season this past weekend. After beating Husson University 2-0 on Saturday, the Mammoths secured their spot in the tournament’s second weekend with a 4-2 victory over No. 15 St. Lawrence University.

Men’s Soccer Returns to Sweet 16 for 12th Straight Year
Men's soccer beat Husson University 2-0 and St. Lawrence University 4-2 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios.

After earning their place in the Division III NCAA Championship Tournament with their 2-1 win in the NESCAC Championship last weekend, men’s soccer began their quest for a National Championship this past weekend. With home-field advantage in the tournament’s first two rounds, they defeated Husson University 2-0 on Gooding Field on Saturday, Nov. 12, before downing No. 15 St. Lawrence University 4-2 on Sunday, Nov. 13.

First up for the Mammoths was a date with the Eagles, the North Atlantic Conference Champions. In a game where the Mammoths rested many of their usual starters, the team started slowly, with only one shot on frame in the first 30 minutes of the contest despite having the lion’s share of possession and spending much of the half in Husson’s defensive third. On the other hand, the Eagles didn’t manage a shot during the first half, an indication of the Mammoths’ dominance. However, whatever Head Coach Justin Serpone said to the team at halftime seems to have worked, as the Mammoths came out firing in the second half. They earned three corner kicks in the first four minutes of the second period and continued to maintain possession in their offensive half of the field despite being unable to find an opener.

With so much pressure, the Eagles’ defense couldn’t hold on forever, and the breakthrough eventually came in the 64th minute. Yet another Amherst corner resulted in a scrum inside the 18-yard box, where the ball eventually bounced to Fynn Hayton-Ruffner ’25. While his shot was blocked, the rebound ended up at the feet of Nico Kenary ’23E, who calmly slotted the ball home for his second goal in two games to give the Mammoths the lead.

And 10 minutes later, the home side got their insurance goal. After Aidan Curtis ’25 found some space on the right side of the field but got held up in the penalty box, the ball found its way to Hayton-Ruffner on the right side. He sent in a beautifully weighted cross that Curtis, who had stayed in the box, headed past the Eagles’ keeper to bag himself a goal and double the Mammoths’ lead. It was Curtis’ sixth goal, and Hayton-Ruffner’s team-leading ninth assist of the season. Seeing out the last 15 minutes with little trouble, the Mammoths advanced to the next round of the tournament with a 2-0 win.

After surviving Husson, the Mammoths took to Hitchcock Field on Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s other game, St. Lawrence University. The Saints had played a marathon of a game the prior day, needing a penalty shootout to take care of business against Roger Williams University. In stark contrast to the day before, the Mammoths took full advantage of their opponents’ tired legs in the first half of Sunday’s contest, putting four goals past the St. Lawrence keeper in the first 45 minutes.

In fact, it took Amherst only 81 seconds to take the lead. This time, it was Hayton-Ruffner on the scoresheet, as he netted his team-leading ninth goal of the 2022 season with a perfectly-timed header off of a free-kick served into the box by Ada Okorogheye ’24E to open the scoring. After 20 more minutes of dominating play by the Mammoths, in which they ripped off eight shots to only one for the Saints, the home side got their second goal. The move again started with a Hayton-Ruffner pass, this time to Curtis, who one-timed a ball to Declan Sung ’24E. Sung, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week, skillfully avoided an onrushing defender and took a shot which, while taking a heavy deflection, arched into the net nonetheless. 2-0 Mammoths.

The highlight of the match, though, came just six minutes later. Niall Murphy ’25 collected a loose ball on the edge of the Mammoths’ attacking third and drove into the space in front of him. After quickly making his way down the left flank, he cut inside toward the top of the box, weaving through a sea of Saints defenders and uncorking a rocket of a shot with his right foot from just outside the area that found the right side-netting. Just like that, Murphy had scored one of the Mammoths’ best goals all year. The bow that he took in celebration was certainly warranted.

While the Saints got a goal back in the 38th minute, the Mammoths sealed their win just before halftime, when a series of headers inside the 18-yard box, the last from Adrian Trott ’26, found Andrew Barkidjija ’23E. After bringing the ball under control with his thigh, he volleyed home the team’s fourth goal of the day. Despite the Saints getting a second goal 10 minutes after halftime, it was the last they could muster, and Amherst saw out the rest of the game to move on to the Sweet 16 for the 12th straight season.

“It was a hard-fought weekend,” said Murphy, whose goal was one of the Mammoths’ highlights on Sunday. “Both Husson and St. Lawrence proved to be tough opponents, and we had to dig deep to find a way to survive and advance. Our collective energy, especially in the first half against St. Lawrence, was the difference maker. Six different players scored this weekend and a lot of guys put in really important minutes. It is crucial to have a deep team to be successful in this tournament.”

“Making the Sweet 16 is not easy, and I am proud that we have made it this far,” echoed Curtis. “The goals [on Sunday] were great, especially from Niall in particular. We get to play at home again next weekend, so you cannot ask for much more.”

The Mammoths will look to continue their run of form and advance to the Final Four for the third straight season this coming weekend. And like last year, they will do so at home. First, they will take on the No. 18-ranked University of Mary Washington on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 11 a.m. If they win on Saturday, they will face either Bowdoin or SUNY Oneonta on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 12 p.m.