Wesleyan men’s soccer has accomplished two feats never before witnessed by Cardinal faithful: they have yet to lose after 15 games, and have set a school record for shutouts in a season.
Now they are looking for a NESCAC title, something that has only been done once before (in 2005) by Wesleyan Men’s Soccer.
Their campaign has in no way been easy. They opened the year on Sept. 12 facing perennial power and Little Three rival Williams College on the road. In that match the Cardinals came back after being down 1-0 to forge a 1-1 tie. Over the eight weeks that have followed the squad has pushed its NESCAC-best overall record to 11-0-4 and 6-0-3 in league play, earning Wesleyan the top seed in the NESCAC Tournament. The Cardinals are one of only two unbeaten Division III teams in the country.
The 15-game unbeaten streak has eclipsed the previous school mark set in 2006 when the team opened the year 9-0-3 before falling to Williams in game 13. With 11 shutouts so far this year, the 2009 squad has broken the record set by the 1980 Cardinal team, which collected eight shutouts on its way to a 12-2 record and an ECAC New England Division III title.
It’s been quite a rebound for a team that finished at 5-8-2 last year.
What has made the difference in 2009?
“I think it was a question of taking a step backward in order to take two steps forward,” says 11-year head coach Geoff Wheeler. “Last year was a learning experience and a chance for the upperclassmen to reflect on the disappointment and use it as a positive.”
Mixing 21 returnees, seven of them seniors, with a very capable crop of nine newcomers, Wesleyan has gelled into a national force, one that has held the number-one spot in New England for four straight weeks, debuted on the national rankings at No. 15 on Oct. 6, then climbed to No. 6 on Oct. 13 and continued its ascent to No. 5, a position it has held since Oct. 20. A new poll is coming out Nov. 3 and Wesleyan is expecting a rise to No. 4 nationally.
In one of the team’s recent games Oct. 24, a 0-0 overtime deadlock at Little Three rival Amherst, 21 Cardinals saw action in the contest, seven of them first-years, including the team’s starting netminder Adam Purdy ’13.
“He has been an extremely welcome addition to the team,” says Coach Wheeler. “There’s no doubt his presence has given us a big lift. While we came into the season with a concentration on defense because we gave up 27 goals in 2008, Adam has been called upon to make some big saves and he has really come through.”
Purdy leads the NESCAC in both save percentage (.926) and goals-against average (0.32). Both these figures rank him among the top-10 nationally in Division III. Wesleyan has given up just five goals in 15 games in 2009.
The Cardinals opened NESCAC Tournament play at home Sunday, Nov. 1 with a 5-0 shellacking of Colby. Wesleyan will now host the conference Final Four the weekend of Nov. 7-8, facing Middlebury in one semi-final Saturday while Williams takes on Bowdoin in the other. The winners meet in the championship game Sunday with an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament going to the victor.
“It’ll be something we shoot for and hope comes our way,” says Coach Wheeler.