Men’s soccer: Amherst College sets sights on Washington and Lee in NCAA Division 3 Final Four

Amherst College’s Mohammed Nuhu (21), left, battles for possession earlier this season against Connecticut College.

Amherst College’s Mohammed Nuhu (21), left, battles for possession earlier this season against Connecticut College. PHOTO BY JIM PIERCE

Amherst College men’s soccer coach Justin Serpone talks to his team earlier this season. The Mammoths will play in the NCAA Division 3 Final Four on Friday against Washington and Lee.

Amherst College men’s soccer coach Justin Serpone talks to his team earlier this season. The Mammoths will play in the NCAA Division 3 Final Four on Friday against Washington and Lee. PHOTO BY JIM PIERCE

The Amherst College men’s soccer team will play in the NCAA Division 3 Final Four on Friday against Washington and Lee.

The Amherst College men’s soccer team will play in the NCAA Division 3 Final Four on Friday against Washington and Lee. PHOTO BY KRIS DUFOUR/AMHERST ATHLETICS

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 11-29-2023 5:16 PM

The Amherst College men’s soccer team has been on the ride of its life during the NCAA Division 3 Tournament, but the club hasn’t made it easy on their coaching staff or fans.

The Mammoths (17-2-3) are one game away from playing for a national title, but their last seven games have been decided by just one goal; two of those going to overtime. But every time the Mammoths have needed somebody to step up, they’ve found a hero to give them the win. They need just two more victories to claim college soccer’s ultimate prize.

The Mammoths will travel to Kerr Stadium in Salem, Va., to play in the program’s sixth national semifinal all-time. They’ll face off against Washington and Lee University (15-4-5) on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The winner of that game will go on to play in the national championship match on Sunday at noon against either St. Olaf or Washington College.

The way the team has been winning lately has come as somewhat of a relief to Amherst head coach Justin Serpone.

“For a while, it was a little bit like we were trying to figure out how to win one-goal games,” Serpone said. “This team for two years, it felt like for a long time, we’d score a goal and then we’d give up a lead and it just became a thing. And really in the last month to six weeks, I think we’ve taken all the lessons from the last two years and fixed our weaknesses to some degree and learned our lessons.”

Serpone has been the men’s soccer coach at Amherst since 2007, and though every team is different, what stands out about this year’s group is their balance. Depth has been a key factor in the team’s wins, and their balanced scoring attack can give other sides fits. Amherst’s conference has taken notice; Ada Okorogheye was named NESCAC Player of the Year, first-year forward Mohammed Nuhu picked up NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors, and back Ben Clark-Eden and midfielder Igancio Cubeddu also earned All-NESCAC First Team nods.

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Their defense has also been rock solid, highlighted by the steady performance of senior keeper Max Landa.

“I would just single him out because I think he’s a little bit unheralded. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are All-League and Ada was Player of the Year, etc. Max probably hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves and he’s been just incredible,” Serpone said.

It helps that the entire team is finally healthy – injuries plagued the Mammoths most of the season; their most recent game against Occidental was the first time they were able to dress their full lineup.

Washington and Lee, like Amherst, is a perennial contender in the NCAA Div. 3 tourney. The program made it to the semifinals just once before in 2021, where it lost in OT to Connecticut College. That was the same Camels team that ended Amherst’s dreams of a national title that year, taking the championship over the Mammoths in penalty kicks, a loss that still stings.

The Generals have a few players to keep an eye on Friday, mainly offensive juggernaut Weyimi Agbeyegbe, who won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year Award. Teammates Grant McCarty, PJ Ryan and Will Joseph also earned ODAC First-Team nods and will be players Amherst will need to watch in the semifinal.

It’s never easy to win a championship – in his 17 years at Amherst, Serpone has only been there once, despite the consistent success his teams have had. He wants this team to enjoy the ride while recognizing they have a remarkable opportunity in front of them.

“This is not normal, and so I want them to enjoy the process. Having said that, I feel like this particular group feels like it’s got some unfinished business as far as we lost in penalty kicks in 2021 in the national final,” Serpone said. “I think we’re pretty focused on trying to try to win Friday. Then if you’re in the national final, you give it your best shot.”

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.