William and Mary’s Colonial Athletic Association season ended just as it began — with a loss to Drexel.
After a six-goal explosion in the tournament semifinals against North Carolina-Wilmington, the No. 21 Tribe (11-5-2, 4-2-1 CAA) fell short in the CAA Championship, as Drexel (9-7-4, 4-1-2 CAA) shut out the College 1-0 in Philadelphia, Pa. The outcome of the match gave the Dragons an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, while leaving the Tribe unsure of its status.
The uncertainty morphed into jubilation Monday when the Tribe received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The College will host former-CAA rival George Mason (12-2-5) Thursday. Despite the sting of Saturday’s defeat, the strength of the College’s resume — which includes three wins against ranked opponents — shined through.
The selection marked the third time that head coach Chris Norris has led the Tribe to the NCAA tournament and the program’s 15th selection all-time. Most recently, the College advanced to the third round of the tournament in 2010.
In the conference championship Saturday, the Tribe outshot the Dragons and forced Drexel goaltender Tyler Afflerbach to make four tough saves. The difference in the match came down to a corner kick that resulted in an unlikely goal.
In the 26th minute, Drexel midfielder Michele Pataia whipped the ball into the box, where it bounced around a scrum of green and yellow shirts before defender Jameson Detweiler found the ball at his feet. Detweiler slammed it past freshman goalkeeper Mac Phillips, finding the back of the net. A momentary lapse of focus ended up costing the Tribe the championship.
The College took several close cracks at an equalizer but could not find an answer to Drexel’s firm backline. In the 36th minute, junior forward Josh West’s shot from just inside the box bent toward goal but bounced off the goalpost and landed safely out of bounds.
Coming off his first-career two-goal game against UNC-W, sophomore forward Jackson Eskay contributed three shots and tied for the team lead with freshman forward Reilly Maw. The Tribe made Drexel work to maintain its defensive edge by controlling possession; however, the College’s forwards were often forced to take improbable shots from outside the box due to Drexel’s cohesive backline.
Senior forward Chris Perez came close to an equalizer eight minutes into the second period. Junior midfielder Chris Albiston crossed the ball into the box where Perez tracked it down. Perez’s header was goal bound, but Afflerbach recorded the save.
In the waning minutes of the game, the Tribe pushed frantically for a goal to send the game to overtime and to keep its aspiration of an eighth CAA championship alive. Drexel’s defenders, led by CAA Championship Most Outstanding Performer Tal Bubill, stymied the Tribe over and over, forcing costly turnovers. With all of the College’s players huddled inside Drexel’s box in the final seconds, a hopeful corner kick was cleared away to end the match.
Three Tribe players were named to the all-CAA tournament squad — Perez, senior defender Will Smith and junior defender Michael Tieman.
Senior defender Roshan Patel did not play in the final two games of the tournament due to a hamstring injury but will likely be cleared to play for the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The College hosts George Mason Thursday at Martin Family Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to face 14th-seeded New Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M.