Judges' soccer teams in midst of stellar seasons

Nationally ranked men's and women's squads maintain unbeaten streaks in Saturday games

Dara Spital '15, a transfer from Division I Central Florida, leads Division III with six game-winning goals.


Oct. 7: 
In the Judges’ their first home conference games of the season yesterday -- a doubleheader against Case Western Reserve – the men’s team won, 2-0, to extend their school-record unbeaten streak to 17 games dating back to last season, while the women’s squad had a 0-0 tie. The shutout in the women’s game extended their shutout streak to 10, one short of a school record.

In the men’s game, the ninth-ranked Judges scored a pair of second-half goals to improve to 11-0-1 this season, 1-0-1 in the UAA. After goalkeeper Blake Minchoff saved the Spartans’ second shot of the second half, Brandeis responded with a goal on the counter-attack. Sophomore Foti Andreo sent a beautiful through ball to classmate Tyler Savonen, who tracked it down at the end line and sent a perfect cross to senior midfielder Sam Ocel. Ocel sent it home at 49:36 for his fifth goal of the season and team-leading fourth game-winner.

Brandeis added an insurance goal in the 72nd minute. Junior midfielder Tudor Livadaru did some nifty footwork to beat a defender along the goal line. He sent the ball through the goal mouth, and classmate Steve Salazar one-touched it into the net for his first collegiate goal. The Brandeis defense took over from there, allowing Case just one additional shot the rest of the way.

The 22nd-ranked women faced a Spartan team that had been ranked as high as 13th this season. After an evenly played first half, Brandeis outshot their opponents, 14-2, in the second, but it was the goalies who stole the show. The netminders on both side of the field made impressive diving saves in the second half to preserve a scoreless game, highlighted by sophomore Michelle Savuto’s diving stop in the 58th minute.

In 20 minutes of overtime, the shots were even at seven each, but neither side was able to score a “Golden Goal” to take home a victory, and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. It was the first tie of the season for Brandeis, but their 10th shutout of the campaign -- one shy of a single-season record. The Judges now stand at 10-1-1 overall and 1-0-1 in the UAA.

The Judges return to action with the always-difficult Chicago-St. Louis road trip. They play at the University of Chicago on Friday, Oct. 12, and at Washington University in St. Louis on Sunday, Oct. 14.

Oct. 5: 
Last night, three different players had four-point nights as the women's soccer team defeated Babson, 4-1. Sapir Edalati '15 led the way with two goals, including the game-winner in the 12th minute, while Dara Spital '15 and Holly Szafran '16 each had a goal and two assists. With the win, the Judges matched the 2003 and 2004 squads for the best start in program history at 10-1.

At the midpoint of the 2012 soccer season, the Judges are in the midst of a historic campaign.

After earning simultaneous national Division III rankings for the first time, the Brandeis men’s and women’s teams each have won nine of their first 10 contests. The ninth-ranked men defeated Wheaton College Tuesday night to improve to 10-0-1, setting a program record for longest unbeaten streak at 16 in a row, dating back to last season. The 9-1 women, ranked  22nd, have recorded shutouts all of their nine victories.

The men, in head coach Mike Coven’s fourth decade on the sidelines, are nationally ranked for the first time since 1996. They’d won 14 in a row before earning a dramatic 1-1 tie with Rochester in their University Athletic Association opener last Saturday evening.

The Yellowjackets scored seven minutes before halftime, marking the third time this season the Brandeis team was behind at the half. Forward Tyler Savonen ’15 rescued the Judges with 5:03 to go in regulation with an unassisted strike from 12 yards out for his fourth goal of the season.

 “This team is so courageous,” Coven beams. “They battle until the very end, so you can’t count us out of any game. Intensity and passion are key to soccer, and we play with that, and a decent level of talent to boot.”

All season long, the Judges have gotten stellar goaltending from Blake Minchoff ’13, who made a career-high eight saves, including two in overtime, to preserve the tie with Rochester and earn University Athletic Association Player of the Week honors. Minchoff was an All-UAA selection last season, when he set a school shutout record. Statistically he hasn’t been quite as good this year, but, Coven says, “a lot of the goals he’s give up haven’t been Blake’s fault. We need to be better on set pieces.”

 The Judges, one of 13 unbeaten teams left this season, have been led offensively by the senior duo of Sam Ocel and Lee Russo. Ocel’s seven assists rank seventh among Division III players, while Russo’s nine goals are 23rd.

The two hooked up for one of the most dramatic goals in recent memory, with Ocel heading in Russo’s throw-in in double overtime to defeat local rival Babson, 2-1, in the 60th meeting between the two teams. Russo, who has scored three game-winning goals this season, has moved into 11th place on the Judges’ career scoring list with 73 points. He needs one more goal to become the ninth player in school history with 30 career goals.

“Sam was All-New England last season and he’s just as good this year,” Coven says. “And Lee has managed to get better every single season he’s been here. He’s playing All-America caliber this year, really becoming a force.”

With their successes, the Judges are also playing to fantastic crowds. The season has seen the emergence of “Coven’s Corner.” a cheering section named for the head coach. The group was raucous in the squad’s win over Babson  - watch a Youtube video of the winning goal.

“The fan support had been great. A large crowd in your corner always makes you play better,” Coven says. “And this is as great an atmosphere as we’ve had in years and years.”

For the women, soccer this season has a lot in common with an episode of Sesame Street:  Brought to you by the letter “D.” And it’s not just 34-year head coach Denise Dallamora – known as “D.D.” by her colleagues -- either.

This year, the D also stands for “defense” -- as in nine shutouts in 10 games, second in Division III in the most recent NCAA statistical report.  As in a .951 save percentage, ranked sixth, and a 0.20 goals-against average, seventh best. As in, holding a University of Rochester squad that Brandeis had not defeated since 2003 to just four shots in a 1-0 victory.

There are two aspects to this defensive mastery that make it all the more impressive.

First, the starting back line does not have a single senior, and only one returning player. The unit is anchored by Kelly Peterson ’14, an All-UAA honorable mention as a sophomore, with as accurate and powerful a foot from the back line as you are going to see in Division III women’s soccer. Peterson, along with Emma Eddy ’15 (a transfer from Union College), Allyson Parziale ’16 and Haley Schachter ’16 make up a quartet that never played together before this season.

“They work hard and are completely coachable,” says Dallamora. “They pick things up in a snap.”

On top of that, the Judges have been using a rotation in goal all season.

Francine Kofinas ’13, one of only two seniors on the squad and the backstop of the team’s NCAA tournament squad in 2010 as a sophomore, has been joined by Michelle Savuto ’15. Kofinas has started all 10 of the Judges’ contests, with Savuto taking over in the second 45 minutes. Together, the duo have only allowed two goals all season, in a 2-1 loss to Bowdoin College on Sept. 15, when the Polar Bears scored once in each half. The Judges showed a return to that 2010 NCAA form with a 2-0 win over then-23rd-ranked Springfield on Sept. 8, while a 1-0 win over Gordon on Sept. 18 is the Fighting Scots’ only blemish this season. With their nine shutouts, Brandeis is just one shy of tying the school record for a season.

“Francine and Michelle have made some amazing saves to keep us in these games,” Dallamora says. “Against Bates, against Rochester, they came up huge.”

That letter ‘D’ also comes up when discussing the other end of the field for the Brandeis women, where it stands for Dara -- leading scorer Dara Spital. A transfer from Division I Central Florida, Spital’s scoring punch was a factor sorely missing from the 2011 squad. At the midway point of the season, her eight goals are just five fewer than the entire team scored last year.

Even more impressive is the way she and her teammates have made them count. Since their loss to Bowdoin, Brandeis has won four straight 1-0 games, and Spital has scored the game-winner in three of them, including her strike with 10 minutes to go in regulation against Rochester. With six game-winning goals this season, she is tied with two others for the NCAA Division III lead in that category. “Dara is a workhorse,” Dallamora gushes. “She is talented, but she is also the ultimate teammate.  She works hard, but is still unselfish.”

The men have eight games remaining on their schedule, the women nine. Each team has six contests remaining in the UAA, meaning several big tests are yet to come.

The men might be ranked ninth by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, but they are still the third-ranked team in the UAA, behind #4 Carnegie Mellon (9-1) and #6 NYU (9-0). Chicago (5-2-2) and Washington University (5-3-1) have both been ranked at some point this season and Brandeis will have to face them on the road.

On the women’s side, the schedule includes top-ranked Emory (7-0-2) at home on Oct. 26 and No. 8 Washington U. (also 9-1) on the road on Oct. 14. Case Western Reserve (6-2-2) appeared in the rankings earlier this season while Carnegie Mellon (6-1-2) is knocking on the Top 25 door.

The Judges returned to Gordon Field in early October with midweek, non-conference night games. The men topped Wheaton, 1-0, yesterday, and the women take on Babson tonight at 7 p.m. On Saturday, Case Western Reserve is in town for a UAA doubleheader, with the women at 11 a.m. and the men immediately after at 1:30 p.m.

Follow the games via LiveStats, or listen live on WBRS.

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