WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Eastern Connecticut State University men's soccer team will be making its sixth straight post-season appearance - its longest such streak since the mid-1970s -- when the Warriors face St. Lawrence University in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Division III Tournament Saturday at Cole Field on the Williams College campus.
In Saturday's first round, Eastern (17-1-1) plays St. Lawrence (13-2-3) at 1:30 p.m. after host Williams (13-1-3) takes on Thomas College, ME (15-2-2) at 11 a.m. The regional title match is set for Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Ranked No. 24 nationally and No. 4 in New England, Eastern gained an automatic berth after coming off its fourth Little East Conference playoff championship in six years. The post-season appearance is the 18th in program history, fourth straight in the NCAA field and fifth NCAA berth (in six years).
Ranked 13th nationally and second in the East, St. Lawrence was selected on an at-large basis after losing on penalty kicks in the Liberty League semifinals last Thursday against RPI.
Williams, ranked ninth in Division III and second in New England, was awarded an at-large berth after losing to Amherst (ranked second nationally) in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship game. Thomas was the North Atlantic Conference playoff champion.
Eastern and St. Lawrence are two of the top-ranked defensive teams in Division III. Eastern has posted nine shutouts in 19 matches, the Saints 14 in 18 matches. St. Lawrence ranks sixth nationally in shutout percentage and tenth in goals-against average.
Eastern's five four-year seniors will be competing in their unprecedented fourth straight NCAA tournament: Jon DeCasanova (Glastonbury), Bradley Fletcher (Middletown), Matt Furman (Montville), Jordan Munsell (Waterford) and Cory Tobler (Portland).
In the second round of last year's Lotto Classic, Eastern lost a 1-0 decision to host St. Lawrence in the second meeting between the clubs in the series, which began in 2005.
In their first NCAA tournament appearance ever in 2007, Eastern lost, 2-0, to Williams in the
first round. It was the first meeting between the programs. The Warriors defeated Thomas in the only contest between the clubs, in 1992.Eastern is 2-4 in NCAA tourney play. After losing in their openers in 2007 and 2009, the Warriors defeated Nichols College, 1-0, in 2010, and Springfield College, 2-0, a year ago.
Seeded first, Eastern won its fourth Little East Conference playoff title in six years and second straight with the victory over third-seeded UMass Dartmouth. The victory gave the Warriors a season record 17th victory - breaking the 43-year-old mark set in 1969 when the Warriors won the NAIA New England championship.
Junior midfielder Mitch Power (Douglas, MA) was named the LEC playoff Most Outstanding after scoring Eastern's first goal against UMass Dartmouth on a free kick in the seventh minute.
Furman was named LEC Offensive Player-of-the-Year and Fletcher LEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year and the pair were joined on the LEC All-Conference first team by Tobler, Munsell, and Power, giving the Warriors a program-record five first-team selections. Junior midfielder Carl Stensland (Storrs) and junior back Christopher Giustina (Enfield) were second-team selections.
Furman, Tobler and Power have combined for 27 of the team's 43 goals and 68 of its 126 points and are joined by Fletcher and junior Jordan Clark (Manchester) as players having started all 19 matches. Munsell has started 18 matches in net with eight shutouts, a 0.63 goals-against average and .831 save percentage.
Since the institution of separate LEC offensive and defensive players-of-the-year awardees in 2006, Eastern athletes garnered both honors for the first time.
Eastern has averaged over six all-conference picks per season under sixth-year head coach Greg DeVito (88-27-12). DeVito has a .740 winning percentage, averaging just under 15 wins per season. Under DeVito, Eastern is 38-5-6 in regular-season LEC play and has never lost more than one regular-season LEC contest in a season.
A total of 14 New England institutions were selected as either automatic qualifiers or at-large selections to the 62-team field, which concludes with the national championship match Dec. 1 at Blossom Soccer Complex in San Antonio.
In addition to Williams, other New England institutions hosting regionals this weekend are Brandeis University and Babson College.