The Emory men’s soccer team embraced senior goalkeeper Jack Hudson on the field, as students and supporters chanted Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” that played over the speakers at the Woodruff Physical Education Center (WoodPEC).
On the afternoon of Nov. 13, the Eagles faced off against the Centre College (Ky.) Colonels in the first round of the 2021 Division III NCAA tournament. After a nail-biting penalty shootout, the Eagles survived and advanced to the second round against Hanover College (Ind.) on Nov. 14. The Eagles could not create the same magic and fell 1-0.
Emory hosted the first and second rounds of the tournament at the WoodPEC. On Nov. 13, students and families filled the stands for a tournament game that featured a missed penalty, clinical finishes, taunting toward the Emory students, blown chances and multiple yellow cards.
At the end of extra time, Emory’s season fell on the shoulders of Hudson.
“We had looked at [Centre’s] [penalty kicks] beforehand and done our research,” Hudson said after the game. “A lot of preparation went into it, but it’s mostly a crapshoot.”
Standing between the goal posts for Emory, Hudson looked confident for the crapshoot. He clapped his hands and touched the crossbar before Centre’s first penalty.
“Hands, touching hands/Reaching out, touching me, touching you.”
Hudson dove to the right side three penalty kicks in a row, but the ball flew inches past his outstretched finger or slipped through his hands into the net each time.
Hudson’s research finally paid off on his fourth try. He dove right again and stopped Centre’s penalty in the fourth round of the shoot-out.
Senior midfielder Max Mehlman forced his shot through the goalkeeper’s hands to force a must-make from Centre. Their fifth penalty flew over the crossbar.
“Good times never seemed so good.”
The Eagles persevered through the gritty game. Senior forward Charlie Scruton put the Eagles ahead in the 61st minute after a deflected cross landed at his feet, and he belted the ball into the right corner. The Eagles’ lead lasted less than 15 minutes. The Colonels responded with an equalizer from sophomore forward Sota Ippongi who touched the ball around the oncoming Hudson and passed it into the net.
“In that moment when they tie it up, we are certainly trying to flip the momentum back in our favor,” head coach Cory Griener said of the Eagles’ attempt to get the game back in their control.
The team focused on giving its all in the five minutes following the goal to respond strongly, but the game plan itself remained vague.
“There are a variety of ways to generate momentum and flip the game on its head, but that’s one area of our game we need to improve upon,” Greiner said.
Grit and the big save by Hudson in the penalty shoot-out was enough for the Eagles to move onto the second to face Hanover. For much of the 2021 season, it was enough.
“Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing/But then I know it’s growing strong.”
Senior defender Josh Berman and junior defender Luke Price manned a stellar defensive core in front of Hudson that consistently produced shutouts against some of the toughest opponents in DIII soccer. From the beginning of the season to the end, there was really only one problem — the struggle to score.
Greiner experimented with consistent rotations and new players at attack, but over the entire season, the Emory attack averaged only 1.2 goals per game.
Even with scoring trouble and rotating lineups, the Eagles put together a respectable season in the always competitive University Athletic Association. Their performances against strong opponents earned them the honor to host the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament.
After their win against Centre, the second round came the following day against Hanover. Hanover defeated the University of Lynchburg (Va.) in the first round to earn the opportunity to face the Eagles.
The teams battled through a nervy first half with few chances for either side. Then, a thunderbolt woke everyone up in the second half.
In the 58th minute, Hanover sophomore midfielder Xander Ochsner ripped a shot from 25 yards out into the top left corner that left Hudson no chance.
Emory fought hard to respond. With 10 minutes remaining, the Eagles sent a brigade forward. Greiner replaced defenders for attackers. Berman abandoned all defensive duties to play as a forward. The usual formation of a 4-4-2 looked inverted, like a 2-4-4.
Junior forward Madison Conduah acknowledged that while the Eagles upped the tempo late in the game, the Eagles couldn’t get it done like they could against Centre.
“After they scored, [Greiner] stressed the importance of the next five minutes,” Conduah said. “Those five minutes are pivotal in terms of how the momentum is going to change going forward and how this game is going to play out. I think we unfortunately did a better job of that against Centre.”
Emory’s only real chance came in the 87th minute. A header from senior forward Ethan Cohen forced Hanover’s goalkeeper to make an acrobatic save and scramble back to stop a rebound from Price.
“And when I hurt/Hurting runs off my shoulders/How can I hurt when holding you.”
When the final whistle blew, the WoodPEC speakers were silent. Some Emory players collapsed. Some slowly walked off the field.
Hanover upset Emory 1-0 to advance to the third round of the DIII NCAA tournament.
The loss ended the soccer careers of 11 Emory seniors, several of whom returned as fifth-years to take advantage of a lost 2020 season. Teammates embraced following the game in hugs and tears.
After the game, Greiner encouraged his younger players to remember how the loss feels.
“I remember seeing [the seniors] and recognizing that I don’t ever want to be in that position,” Conduah said. “Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, so when that final whistle blows for our careers, we want to be full of joy.”
“And spring became the summer/Who’d have believed you’d come along.”
The loss of several seniors also means the loss of leaders and mentors, but Conduah and a strong junior class look forward to stepping into that role for next year as seniors.
“The team will be on par if not better than this year’s team,” Conduah said. “I think [the loss] will help us gain experience, so we recognize what it takes to keep going forward.”