By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – The starting lineup included seven seniors the last time Bridgewater State University made the NCAA Division 3 men’s soccer tournament.
The Bears went 17-4-1 in 2015, winning the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference title, and five of those seniors earned all-conference honors, including player of the year Conor Murtagh.
When that group graduated, there was some rebuilding to do, and BSU had back-to-back sub-.500 seasons in 2016 and 2017.
After gaining experience during those two years, the Bears have returned to the NCAA tourney this fall, rallying to win the MASCAC championship on Sunday, 5-3, at top-seeded Framingham State University.
That has earned BSU (11-7-1) a trip down the Massachusetts Turnpike to play at Amherst College (12-4-1), ranked No. 18 in the nation. The opening-round game is Saturday at 11 a.m. with the winner facing either Middlebury or Saint Joseph’s of Maine on Sunday.
Only one player, senior Kane Moran, remains from the last NCAA tourney team, so the Bears had to gain experience the past two seasons.
“When the season ended last year, one of the things I said was we needed to get old,″ said coach Brendan Adams, who also guided BSU to the NCAAs in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2015. “A lot of times you want the quick fix, the instant rewards. Sometimes you’ve just got to work at it.
“You keep chipping away and learning stuff every game. A lot of players now want instant success. That victory we had Sunday was based on work that we did in the spring or lessons we learned throughout the year or the year before. By getting older we could experience that stuff.″
Bridgewater State trailed Framingham State, 2-0, early in the MASCAC final, but tourney most valuable player Kessy Alves of Brockton scored three times to key the rally.
“To go down, 2-0, in the game, we easily could have folded, said, “Great season, guys, way to go to the finals,′ ″said Adams. “But we’ve talked of mental toughness and at some point in the game they’re going to hit adversity and how they dealt with that adversity is going to be really important. They handled it.
“We’re just gaining experience as we go. We’ve played some big games. A majority of the guys came in the year after we went 17-4-1 and went to the NCAAs the last time. This group really hasn’t experienced the highs like that. They’ve been close but it came down to the last few games. To actually come through and win it, it’s nice to see for this group.″
Amherst is making its sixth straight trip to the NCAAs and 12th in the last 13 years. The Mammoths, who play in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, won the national title in 2015, and coach Justin Serpone is 179-26-30 in his 12 seasons.
“They’re always good,″ said Adams, whose Bears lost to Amherst, 3-0, in the 2013 NCAAs. “They’re known for having big, physical players. Justin does a great job. They’re just a very solid program and they’ve had a good year. It’ll be a good game for us experience wise.″
Alves, a Southeastern Regional graduate who has nine goals and nine assists, and goalkeeper Nate Morgado (1.63 goals against, five shutouts) were named to the All-MASCAC first team. Moran (four goals, three assists), Kevin Roberts (eight goals, four assists), Zachary Ells (10 assists) and Stanislaus Sokolov earned spots on the second team.