Men's soccer Ivy co-champs meet a bittersweet end
There was no Dick Vitale talking about who would be cutting down the nets at the Final Four, and no one was likely scrambling to set up an office pool as the teams were announced, but last Monday's NCAA tournament selection show had all the excitement of March Madness for the Dartmouth men's soccer team.
Unfortunately, the Big Green's name never came up, as the squad was snubbed for a bid in the field of 48. It was a bittersweet culmination to a memorable season that ended with a record of 9-7-1 (5-1-1 Ivy) and a share of the team's first Ivy League championship since 1992.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the Big Green. Dartmouth opened the season with four straight losses, failing to score a single goal during that stretch. If you had asked anyone on the team if he thought a shot at a tournament bid was even a possibility at that time, he still would have said yes.
It was that confidence that helped right the ship and save the season. Floundering with a 2-6 record in the middle of October, the Big Green men surprised everyone but themselves by going 7-1-1 over its last nine games.
By the end of the season, they weren't just getting wins, they were putting together dominating performances.
A pair of 3-0 wins over Harvard and Brown surrounded a 7-1 dismantling of Cornell, as Dartmouth became the class of the league. The win over Brown was a fitting send-off for the Class of 2003 as the team exorcised the demons of the past on a snowy Chase Field and secured the Ivy League championship for the Big Green.
"As a senior, it's so gratifying to close out my college career like this," co-captain Matt Miller '03 said.
"Coming in as a freshman I remember hearing all the older kids talking about how badly they wanted to get Brown. Now, finally, in my last game I feel like we've finally taken care some unfinished business, not just for us but for lots of people who came before us," he said.
What carried the Big Green through the Brown game was what carried them throughout the season, an unflappable defense and the dangerous attacking combination of Scott Darci '05 and Juan Romera '03. With eight goals on the season, Darci scored six goals in the last seven games of the season to become the team's go-to guy and was named first-team All-Ivy for his performance this year. Romera tallied six goals on the year and was named All-Ivy honorable mention.
In the middle, the man holding it all together was Matt Miller. Miller's tough and determined play was invaluable to the team. With a goal and assist on the season, Miller was named second team All-Ivy.
At the other end of the field, a trio of defenders received post-season accolades but it does little to tell of their value to the team. Doug Carr '03 was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year and All-Ivy second team for his work in goal, while Scott Lish '03 and Mike Vidmar '03 were also named to All-Ivy honorable mention.
"I think this was the most rewarding season of soccer I've ever played, and beating Brown 3-0 in my final game was the best soccer moment I've had since becoming a member of Dartmouth's men's soccer program," Lish said.
"It would be hard for you to find a stronger team than us anywhere in the field of 48. The way our team came together at the end of the season was simply amazing."
In the end, the team experienced the highest high and the lowest low in a span of 48 hours. After defeating Brown, the team anxiously waited for the Penn result. When news of the Quaker loss arrived in Hanover, the Big Green clinched a share of the crown.
Two days later, the team sat in disbelief as they, and the Ivy League in general, received the snub and were left out of the tournament. Traditionally a respected powerhouse in soccer, this year the Ivy League received only the one automatic bid. The disappointment of being left out of the tournament hardly casts a shadow on all that the Big Green has achieved.
"It's been great to finally realize our goal of an Ivy League championship," co-captain Tom Billings '03 said.
"Everyone worked so hard, on and off the field, and I can't think of a better way to send out the seniors. We're disappointed not to have made the NCAAs, but we can still look back with pride on what we've accomplished."
Now, all that's left to do is to look to the future and a promising group of underclassmen that will be returning to defend the title during the 2003 campaign.
As for the seniors, it was quite a last hurrah.
"I can't articulate how proud I am of all the guys and all the character we've shown in battling back from a 2-6 start to win the Ivies," Miller said. "It's a great way to go out."