November 7, 2013
As Hamilton College’s large contingent of Boston Red Sox fans may understand, an 86-year drought implants a self-defeating mindset. When the Red Sox broke through in 2004, it provided an indescribable catharsis for the entire New England region.
Perhaps it’s fitting that on the same day the Sox won a championship, the Hamilton men’s soccer team ended its own “Curse of the Bambino,” defeating Williams College 2-1 for the first time in 86 years. After falling behind early, Dan Kraynak ’15 jolted a slumbering Continentals team with the tying goal in the 23rd minute, and Bayard Geeslin ’16 scored the game-winner in the 72nd minute.
For Head Coach Perry Nizzi, the back-and-forth momentum swings were a heart-stopping experience, providing eerie reminders of his team’s inability to pull through in recent years. “To say the game was exciting would be an understatement,” said Nizzi. “Throughout the second half, we were just hoping to get that one opportunity. The last three years, we’ve had a lot of chances to win games, and we’ve usually found a way not to win.”
Indeed, since joining the NESCAC three years ago, the Conts had not made the playoffs before their stunning victory propelled them into the postseason. Hamilton lost all but one game in 2012 by a single goal, and when the Continentals dropped a 1-0 decision at home to Tufts, it appeared that their postseason hopes were dissipating in similar fashion this season.
But as keeper Freddy Porges ’14 revealed, Hamilton’s success against similarly potent teams like Amherst (1-1 tie) and Wesleyan (1-0 win) gave them confidence in a difficult must-win situation. “Beating Williams at their home field was a great feeling for everyone involved,” he admitted. “Every year since we joined the NESCAC, our season has basically come down to our last conference game. We knew we were up against it when we needed to win at Williams, but we also had hung with and beat the best teams in the conference earlier this year. Making the playoffs for the first time meant a lot for the seniors because we’ve experienced what it felt like to come up just short for the past two years.”
In the end, the injuries proved too much to overcome or forge a deep playoff run, as the Conts fell to top-seeded Amherst, 1-4, in the opening round. However, as Nizzi noted, the team’s success against top NESCAC teams despite being undermanned for much of the year provides a valuable stepping-stone for next season. Moreover, in finally getting over the hump into the postseason, he believes a tone has been established that the Continentals are no longer the pesky underdogs who expect to hang tough but ultimately come up short.
“We have a nice nucleus moving forward of both seven returning starters and a few underclassmen who got lots of playing time this year, so we’ll have more depth than usual headed into next season. But it’s also about the mindset, because when [Williams] scored first, our team’s response was way beyond anything I expected. I could see that they had the mindset that they were going to go to the playoffs, and nothing was going to stop them from that.”
For a team in a new league, that kind of belief does not come easily. Surely nobody on past Hamilton teams wanted to suffer through a seemingly endless string of close defeats and missed postseason results, but learning how to win is often a lengthy and frustrating process. The Continentals have checked off their first goal this year, finally making it into the postseason dance. If the resiliency of the 2013 team is any indication, this should only be the tip of the iceberg moving forward.