The men's soccer team needed one more win in its regular-season finale to receive a slot in the NCAA tournament. The Bears dominated from start to finish in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 at Stevenson Field to hand Dartmouth its worst defeat this season in a 3-0 win, clinching sole possession of second place in the final Ivy League standings and an at-large NCAA bid.
The Bears (10-2-5, 5-2 Ivy) will face winner of the America East conference Stony Brook (6-9-4), a team that is currently riding a seven-game unbeaten streak leading up to Thursday night's first round home match-up at Stevenson Field at 7 p.m. If the Bears win, they will travel to No. 5 North Carolina (13-2-3) to take on the Tar Heels on Sunday in the second round.
"For the freshmen and sophomores, this is their first time heading to the tournament," said midfielder Nick Elenz-Martin '10. "This is the seniors' third time, and from our standpoint we've already won an Ivy League title, and now we want to get past the second round for the first time. We want to make it deeper into the tournament, and that is our main goal from here on out."
Elenz-Martin shined on senior day against Dartmouth (10-6-1, 4-3 Ivy), tallying two assists, and Thomas McNamara '13, Taylor Gorman '12 and Austin Mandel '12 paced the rejuvenated offense with a goal apiece.
"There was so much pressure leading up to the game, and we had to throw that pressure away," Elenz-Martin said. "This was potentially our last game together. We wanted to all work as hard as we could and leave it all out on the field."
The Bears came out of the gate with an offensive mindset, controlling the ball in Dartmouth's territory for much of the first half. Co-captain David Walls '11 booted a free kick just high of the goal in the opening minutes, setting the tone for an offense that would pressure the Big Green's defense relentlessly throughout the game.
Elenz-Martin set up the first goal of the day with a cross from the right side to a cutting McNamara, who had only one man to beat for the goal. McNamara swiftly moved past his defender and his shot trickled through to the goal, just to the right of rookie goaltender Sean Donovan. McNamara's goal at the 15-minute mark gave him five goals for the season, tied for the team high.
The goal by McNamara marked the first time the Bears have scored first in a game since their 1-0 victory over Cornell on Oct. 24, and Gorman followed up the early strike with one of his own just 12 minutes later.
"It was arguably the best 30 minutes we've played all year," Walls said. "It was nice to score two goals when we were playing well. The guys off the bench brought a load of energy, and it was great to be a part of such a great overall performance."
Leading up to the play, Jon Okafor '11 was hit hard by a Dartmouth defender and found himself knocked to the ground. After returning to his feet, he created a scoring opportunity that Gorman put away for the goal. Okafor split his defender up the right side and sent a cross to the far left post, where Gorman rifled the ball to the right-hand corner of the net for the 2-0 lead at 27:21.
After surrendering two goals, the Big Green finally put together a string of offensive chances, which fell short thanks to several key defensive stops by Evan Coleman '12, Ryan McDuff '13, Dylan Remick '13 and Walls. The Bears protected their lead, heading into the half with a 2-0 advantage over the Big Green.
"At this time of the year, in any sport, the defense has got to be successful in order to win," said Head Coach Mike Noonan. "Our back line and really everyone defensively was very sound and that's where our offense comes from. There's no one goal scorer this year, and there is a huge team concept that has shined through in the last two games."
Dartmouth came out with a sense of urgency in the second half and pressured Bruno's defense with several offensive attacks. At 55 minutes, the Big Green kept the ball in the Bears' territory for several minutes, trying to catch the stingy Brown defense off-guard. One of the best looks of the night for the Big Green came off of a cross from the right corner to a cutting forward that went just past his intended target in the 60th minute, and the ball trickled out of bounds for the throw-in.
"A 2-0 lead at the half is a dangerous lead in soccer," Noonan said. "We were a little bit slow starting in the second half, and Dartmouth had some great chances to score. If they had scored, the game would have been different. But I was very pleased that we were able to withstand that pressure."
The ball shifted back into Dartmouth's territory and the Bears had a look on goal by a Walls corner kick from the right side of the field. He settled the ball right at the near post, where Coleman narrowly missed a header that bounced off the post and back into play.
In the 69th minute, the Big Green's Andrew Olson received a red card that sucked the remaining life out of the Dartmouth players, who gave up a third goal four minutes later.
Jay Hayward '12 received a cross on the far left side and tapped the ball to Elenz-Martin, who found a wide open Mandel cutting to the middle. Mandel placed his head on the ball and connected on his fifth goal of the season, tying him with Elenz-Martin and McNamara for the team lead.
"When we move the ball, we play well," Walls said. "It shows a lot of trust in each other and we're able to play more freely. It is refreshing to play on a team that is so comfortable playing with one another."
The Big Green failed to convert on its two shots on goal, and the Bears capitalized on their only three chances of the game. Despite the lopsided score, the Bears held a slim 12-11 shot advantage. Paul Grandstrand '11 (9-2-5) stayed consistent for the Bears in the net, notching two saves and recording his sixth shutout of the year.
Harvard earned the Ivy League title on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Penn and received the overall No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. Dartmouth and Princeton also join the Bears in the tournament, as the Ivy League sends four teams to the tournament for the first time since 1977.
"There's still a lot of growth left in this team," Noonan said. "The longer we can play, the more this team will grow and learn about each other and continue to get better."
The Ivy League announced the first- and second-team honors for the 2009 season on Tuesday, and seven Bears made the list. Elenz-Martin, Granstrand and Sean Rosa '12 received first team accolades, while Coleman, McNamara, Rob Medairos '12 and Walls rounded out the All-Ivy honors on the second team.