Raptors newcomer among established
NCAA Final Four field
CAMDEN, N.J. (Dec. 2, 2013) – There’s one new face in the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championship Final Four this season, and Rutgers University-Camden is hoping its first trip to the finals is a charm.
Live streaming Friday
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The 22-0-2 Scarlet Raptors head to San Antonio, Texas, for a national semifinal game Friday as the only newcomer to a field that includes three teams from the 2012 Final Four: Loras College (19-1-3), Williams College (15-6) and defending national champion Messiah College (22-1-1).
Rutgers-Camden will face Loras in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. (EST), followed by the matchup between Williams and Messiah. The two survivors will play for the title Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
It’s been quite a season for the Scarlet Raptors, who captured their third consecutive New Jersey Athletic
Conference championship, posted the best record in program history and reached the NCAA Final Four for the first time in program history. The elusive goal is the next step in a climb that barely eluded Rutgers-Camden in 2011, when the team was eliminated in double overtime, 2-1, by Oneonta State in the Elite Eight.
“I think the Final Four is what every coach and program in the country chase each year,” said eighth-year Scarlet Raptor Head Coach Tim Oswald, who owns a 121-38-22 record at Rutgers-Camden. “Everyone strives to be among that elite group and every member of a program (from coach, to players, to administration, to trainers) puts forth their best effort and commitment to be mentioned in the same breath of a Messiah, Williams and Loras. Rutgers-Camden is in that elusive class for the moment, which is quite humbling, and we feel honored to be playing at this stage.
“As a DIII player myself at Elizabethtown, I went there to be in a Top 25 program and move on to this platform, but we could never quite get there. Now as a coach, I took that dream as a player and did everything in my power to lead our team to the biggest stage of the season, but it was the players that carried out that mission with precision and we were there merely to push them along. Over the course of the past few years, we have pulled our team together to watch the Final Four online, and now we have the chance to be in Texas and playing ourselves. It's definitely surreal, but it's also just a phase in one of many goals that we have set all season....go undefeated, win the NJAC, host the NCAA's, win NCAA tourney games, get to the Final Four. Once you are at the Final Four, anything can happen and it's up to us to control our destiny.”
The Scarlet Raptors will be looking to control their own destiny against three programs steeped in NCAA soccer history. Messiah, a perennial national powerhouse, has won three of the past four national titles and seven of the last 10. The Falcons defeated Ohio Northern, 5-1, in last year’s championship game and fifth-year Head Coach Brad McCarty brings an unbelievable record of 110-4-4 at Messiah into the Final Four.
Williams, which won a national title in 1995, has been to 18 NCAA tournaments since 1993, including four times in the past five seasons. The Williamstown, Massachusetts, school lost to Ohio Northern, 3-2, in the 2012 semifinals.
Loras, meanwhile, has been one of the nation’s top teams for a long time under 16th-year Head Coach Dan Rothert. The Duhawks, based in Dubuque, Iowa, have won eight Iowa Conference championships, reached the NCAA tournament nine straight years and made four appearances in the Final Four – in 2007, 2008, 2012 and this season. Last year, Loras took eventual national champion Messiah to overtime before losing, 1-0, in a semifinal game, and the Duhawks finished the season with a 23-2-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
“Loras is an incredibly well-known and recognized program and their deep history of success speaks for itself,” Oswald said. “Coach Rothert and the staff there have done a fabulous job of putting their team in a position each season to be a national contender and their four appearances in the Final Four shows that they can play and beat anyone in the country. They almost pulled off a win vs. Messiah last year, but bailed in OT in an epic match. We have an immense amount of respect for Loras and what they bring to the table. Having said that though, we will be prepared like it's just another game and put together the best 90 minutes that we can in hopes to push forward. We know at this level, every team that you play is big time and our preparation for this match since the Elite Eight win has been on point.”
Rutgers-Camden punched its ticket to the Final Four by edging long-time NJAC rival Montclair State University, 2-1, in the Elite Eight. It was the 10th straight victory for the Scarlet Raptors – one shy of the program record they set to open the season. That season-opening 11-game winning streak was just one of numerous program marks the Scarlet Raptors have set this season, including records for most wins (22), goals (66), points (180) and longest single-season unbeaten streak (24 games and counting). The team has tied the 1981 program record of 12 shutouts, is one assist shy of the 2007 team mark of 49, and currently owns a 0.65 goals-against average, barely off the 2004 team mark of 0.64.
“From the first day we arrived at camp, we knew we had the pieces to win a ton of games this season,” Oswald said. “After winning the NJAC back to back, gaining more NCAA experience last season, and landing a quality incoming class, we felt our biggest challenge was keeping this team grounded and not looking past any opponents. Early on, we were winning games on sheer talent, but not on the team concept that had helped us to be successful in previous years. We had to change the mindset and mentality of our players to recognize that individual agendas should be second to being part of our team and that approach paid off. We knew that if we continued to play on talent alone, someone would come in and beat us...but if we put the other guy first and were supportive, we would be a tough team to beat. Flash forward to 24 games in...22-0-2 sounds like we made the right changes early on.”
Over two seasons, the Scarlet Raptors have built a 36-game unbeaten streak (31-0-5), which became the current longest streak in the country when Williams knocked off Amherst, 1-0, in the Elite Eight, ending the Jeffs’ 40-game undefeated run. The Raptors’ streak is the eighth-longest undefeated string in NCAA Division III men’s soccer history.
“I am most proud of how we handled the adversity of the season,” Oswald said. “As you earn more respect and win more games, every team is looking to knock you off. We had to consistently be consistent in our approach every game and not look past anyone. Their response to each match and preparation was phenomenal.”
Rutgers-Camden was ranked No. 2 nationally in the final regular-season D3soccer.com Top 25 poll and No. 3 in the last regular-season NSCAA rankings. Loras was No. 6 in both polls.
In the Duhawks, the Raptors face a team which owns a stingy 0.51 team goals-against average, anchored by senior goalie Dylan Milkent (Wheaton, IL/Glenbard South). Offensively, six players have collected double digits in points, led by junior midfielder Tom Fluegel (Rockton, IL/Hononegah), who owns eight goals and five assists for 21 points.
During its three NCAA tournament games, Loras tied Luther College, 1-1 in double overtime (advancing on penalty kicks, 5-3), and posted wins over Westminster College (2-0) and Trinity (TX) University (2-1) in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively. Trinity will be the host school for the Final Four.
Rutgers-Camden, meanwhile, advanced in the NCAA tournament with wins over Lycoming College (4-0), York (PA) College (3-1) and Montclair State University (2-1).
“This team is used to playing in big games and thriving in big moments,” Oswald said. “We have so many players in our starting 11 that have performed in huge matches before. The single biggest game was the Elite Eight game in 2011 against SUNY Oneonta. With 14 minutes to play, we were up 1-0 and 14 minutes away from our ticket to the Final Four. We let that game slip away and we have chased this ever since.”
The 2013 team turned adversity around and used it to fuel an unrelenting drive. Along the way, there were comebacks from a 3-1 halftime deficit to post a 4-3 overtime win at Rutgers-Newark Sept. 21, and also a rally from a 1-0 deficit on the road to post a 1-1 tie at The College of New Jersey Oct. 2. Another big character-building game came when the Raptors, playing a man down due to a red card, watched Richard Stockton storm back to tie a game in Camden, 1-1, with 7:57 remaining in regulation. Instead of resigning themselves to trying to play for an overtime tie, the Raptors stormed the Osprey net at the start of overtime and earned a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Mitch Grotti (Milmay, NJ/Millville) converted the chance to give Rutgers-Camden a 2-1 win only 2:38 into OT.
Grotti heads into the Final Four as the program’s career leader in games played (91), goals (47), game-winning goals (19) and points (118). This season, he owns seven goals and 10 assists for 24 points, second on the team in scoring to sophomore forward Mike Ryan (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee). Ryan has 21 goals (nine game winners) and four assists for 46 points, having broken Grotti’s 2011 single-season records for goals and points and tied his mark for game-winning goals.
Defensively, senior goalie Mike Randall (Cherry Hill, NJ/Cherry Hill East) has played every minute in the net this year, setting individual single-season goalie marks for wins (22), shutouts (12) and minutes (2203:25). He currently has the best single-season goals-against average (0.65) in program history.
Grotti, Ryan and junior back/midfielder Joe Auleta (Atco, NJ/Hammonton) earned NJAC First Team honors, with Ryan being named the conference’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Randall and senior back Bobby Foster (Burlington, NJ/Burlington Township) were NJAC Second Team players, while senior midfielder Keegan Balle (Naperville, IL/Neuqua Valley) and junior back Eric Cutry (Medford Lakes, NJ/Shawnee) captured NJAC Honorable Mention.
“Clearly the matches against RU-N and TCNJ in the season on the road being down a goal or more and coming back to earn points in the NJAC defined our passion, spirit, and pride,” said Oswald, who was the NJAC Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons. “When the going got tough, we had to overcome that. In previous seasons, we would have bailed and walked away with a loss. However, this year, we were able to fight through those moments against two excellent sides and come away with a better understanding of what it takes to grind, not give up, and battle through tough situations.”
Which the Raptors hope has prepared them for their Final Four debut.