HOPKINSSPORTS.COM The Blue Jays did not give up a goal in either of their weekend games.
The Hopkins men’s soccer team did not allow their loss in the semifinals of the Centennial Conference Tournament to defeat them. Instead, the Jays used the upsetting outcome to fuel their fight going into the NCAA Tournament.
After receiving an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, Hopkins was set to play the DeSales University Bulldogs in the first round of 62.
“Given our strong record, I knew that our chances of getting a bid were pretty good, but there was still the possibility of that not happening,” sophomore forward Achim Younker said. “Once we found out that we were in, we immediately shifted our focus to preparing for our first game against DeSales.”
The Jays came out strong in the first half, scoring their first goal in the 18th minute of play. Sophomore defender Connor Jacobs sent the ball towards the end line for Younker, who gave sophomore forward Liam Moylan the opportunity to tap the ball into the right side of the net.
“I think the team played really well in both of our games this weekend. We were solid defensively and took advantage of our opportunities on the offensive end,” Younker said. “I’m happy that we advanced through the weekend, but I’m also really pleased with how we played in those wins.”
The Jays continued to put the pressure on the Bulldogs, but due to DeSales goalie Dan Sulpizio’s defensive efforts, they could not put the ball away again before the end of the half.
Hopkins did not grow complacent with their one-goal lead. In the second half, the Blue Jays struck again. Younker grabbed the pass from freshman midfielder Alejandro Maclean and found the back of the net in the 50th minute.
The Blue Jays’ defensive line, including senior goalkeeper Bryan See, kept the Bulldogs from scoring any goals, marking their 14th shutout as a team.
With the 2-0 victory, the Jays advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, competing against the Cabrini University Cavaliers the next day.
Hopkins asserted their dominance early, as Younker tallied his 17th goal on the season. Junior midfielder Griffin Cyphers sent the ball to the left side of the box, in response to which Cabrini goalie Mike Gould ran out of the goal in an effort to grab the loose ball. Younker beat him to it. With an open net, Younker slid the ball straight past the Cavaliers’ goalie.
The Blue Jays did not stop there. In the 61st minute, they earned their second and final goal of the game. Maclean took a shot, but Cabrini’s goalkeeper quickly swatted the ball away.
However, the goalkeeper could not control his save, giving junior midfielder Arden Chew the opportunity to snatch the rebound and put the ball away.
For the first time in all of the program’s NCAA Tournament appearances, the Blue Jays earned back-to-back shutouts in the first two rounds.
“Advancing to the Sweet 16 is a great accomplishment and is a result of all the hard work we’ve put in this season. But we aren’t satisfied yet,” Younker said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the tournament, so our sights are set on getting through this weekend with two wins and advancing even further.”
In preparation for this upcoming weekend, the Blue Jays will strive for full mental engagement to ensure excellence in physical performance.
“We will just be focusing on remaining sharp in everything that we do. During this part of the season, there isn’t much room for error, so we’re making sure that we’re minimizing our mistakes,” Younker said. “It will be a tough weekend, so coming in mentally and physically sharp will be extremely important.”
With their weekend victories, the Jays advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, where they will face off against the third-ranked Tufts University Jumbos, the defending national champion and winner of two of the last three NCAA titles.
The Jays will have to beat the Jumbos at their home field in Medford, Mass., where Tufts has not lost all year. In 12 home matchups this year, they have won nine and played to three ties.
The Jays already have experience with the challenge, as they played former number three seed Messiah on the road in October and played competitively the entire game, eventually losing 1-0.