JMU men’s soccer survived the CAA title game and advanced to the NCAA tournament with 4-2 victory in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation against No. 3 Hofstra on Sunday. The Dukes won the conference title for the first time since 2014 and the sixth time in program history under first-year head coach Paul Zazenski.
“We have the talent to win,” Zazenski said. “If we put together a game plan and have a distinct way that we like to play, we’d be hard to beat.”
The Dukes jumped out to a lead less than 10 minutes into the match with a goal from junior midfielder Manuel Ferriol — named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player — which was assisted by sophomore midfielder Petur Thorsteinsson. After the early goal, JMU’s defense held Hofstra in check for the rest of the half.
After a stalemate for the first 30 minutes of the second half, the Pride put pressure on JMU. Senior goalkeeper Alex Ashton made a pair of crucial saves to keep Hofstra alive. Moments later, sophomore forward Matthew Vowinkel provided the equalizer on an assist from junior forward Luke Brown with under 10 minutes to play in regulation.
“That was tough, I’m not gonna lie,” Zazenski said. “I think a little bit of belief went out the door, but then we regained it back. We’re a pretty fit team and we’re deep.”
The 110 minutes allotted weren’t enough to decide a winner — after two 45-minute halves and a pair of 10-minute overtime periods, the score remained knotted at 1-1. Senior forward Aaron Ward-Baptiste, sophomore forward Maarten Nikkessen, graduate student midfielder Yannick Franz and junior midfielder Manuel Ferriol put penalty kicks in the back of the net for JMU.
“I’m confident in my penalty taking abilities,” Ward-Baptiste said. “I wait for the keeper to go usually, look him in his eyes and wait for him to move his body. I saw him lean to his left, so I put it in this opposite corner.”
JMU’s season would be decided by penalty kicks for the first time since 2011. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper TJ Bush came up with a pair of saves for JMU in what he said was his first game decided by penalty kicks since his junior year of high school.
“It’s been a while,” Bush said. “We’ve been working on it in practice the last couple weeks, I was actually having some trouble with them about a week ago. I watched some video and made sure I could get the job done when it was time.”
Bush explained the struggles JMU’s defense overcame in the first half of the season, including injuries to key players like junior defender Brandon Clegg. The Dukes were able to get players off the bench integrated into starting roles while players like junior midfielder Fernando Casero anchored the backline.
“Fernando lives for games like this,” Bush said. “He doesn’t get noticed because he’s not on the stat sheet, but he’s a key part to our team.”
Coming into the CAA championship JMU’s defense had allowed one goal in its previous seven games. The Dukes held Hofstra to one goal on 12 shots Sunday as Bush registered two saves. In the end, JMU fought through late-game adversity and won thanks to a timely goal, stout defense and execution in penalty kicks.
“The guys bought into the fact that I was a head coach because I was here earlier,” Zazenski said. “We came in with a plan, and to their credit, they let it happen.”
The Dukes can continue to put the program on the map with a win in the upcoming NCAA tournament. After winning the CAA regular season title and tournament with a 12-4-3 record in Zazenski’s first year, seniors like Ward-Baptiste said the program has nowhere to go but up.
“It means everything,” Ward-Baptiste said. “The last couple of years we’ve really stepped up our game, and this is the culmination of all that hard work.”
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.