The men's soccer team was crowned Ivy League co-champion Saturday after battling Dartmouth to a 0-0 draw.
The Bears (10-4-3, 4-1-2 Ivy) and the Big Green (8-5-3, 4-1-2) entered the weekend tied for first place in the league, making the match a de facto championship game. The winner would walk away with the Ivy League title outright and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
The two teams squared off in front of a packed house of over 2,000 fans at Stevenson Field. The Bears set the tempo in the first half, firing off eight shots, twice as many as Dartmouth. The teams were neck-and-neck after halftime, with the Big Green getting off eight shots to Bruno's seven. Nonetheless, neither defense yielded a goal by the end of 90 minutes.
"Both teams had everything to play for tonight, and everybody just left it out on the field," said Ryan McDuff '13. "Emotions were running extremely high, and I'm proud of our guys for keeping control under the pressure."
With the scoreboard reading 0-0 at the end of regulation, the game went into extra time. Both teams knew they needed the golden goal to clinch the Ivy title, and neither held anything back.
"Coach was just yelling at us, ‘Go get it on any free kicks or corners. Don't leave any big guys back — just go for it and try to get the goal,'" McDuff said. "That was kind of the mind-set we had to have. We had to find a way to close this big game at the end."
Both squads knew allowing a goal would end not only the game, but also their season.
"There were talks about getting the win, but at the same time you don't want to concede a goal there," said T.J. Popolizio '12. "A loss would be devastating. There's more to play for than just the title. There's an NCAA tournament on the line."
As the final whistle blew and the scoreboard remained blank, a hushed sense of foreboding spread across the field. Without a victor, the teams were forced to await the result of that evening's game between Cornell and Columbia. In the event of a Columbia victory, the Lions would jump the Bears and the Big Green for sole possession of the league title. A Cornell victory would result in Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell splitting the title three ways. A tie would leave the standings unchanged, and the Bears and Big Green would become co-champions.
"It's probably the longest three hours of our lives," McDuff said.
In the end, Columbia and Cornell played to a draw. But because the Bears lost to third-place Columbia and the Big Green defeated the Lions, Dartmouth earned the automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. The Bears will now have to wait once again — until 4:30 p.m. today — for the 2011 NCAA Selection show to find out if they have earned an at-large bid in the tournament.
For the players, it is difficult having the fate of their season beyond their control.
"It's really an empty feeling right now," Popolizio said. "I guess we just hope and pray that we see our name on Monday."
The selection committee will weigh a number of factors in deciding which teams earn at-large bids, among them a team's strength of schedule and performance leading into the post-season. This season, the Bears have faced a number of perennial powerhouses, including No. 7 Boston College, No. 17 South Carolina and Kentucky. In addition, the squad has gone undefeated in its last eight match-ups.
"We lost to Columbia Oct. 1, so it's been six weeks since we've been beat," said Head Coach Patrick Laughlin. "I think whatever happens in the NCAA, we deserve a bid."
The Bears earned an at-large bid last season, and went on to defeat No. 25 Boston College and No. 9 University of Connecticut before falling in the Sweet 16 to No. 6 University of California at Berkeley. With the future of their season uncertain, the players will continue to train and be ready for whatever Monday brings.
"If we get a shot into the NCAAs, I think we can do some damage," Popolizio said. "If you're a team and you get into the tournament, you don't want to face Brown."