Maybe it was only appropriate that an historic season for Tufts men’s soccer team ended with the ultimate historic moment.
The Jumbos, who set a record for wins (16) this year, capped off their NCAA Division III tournament run with a 4-2 victory over Wheaton (Ill.) College on Saturday at Swope Soccer Park in Kansas City.
It is the first national title in school history for the Jumbos, who were playing in only their fourth NCAA tournament.
“It was an unbelievable feeling when the final whistle was blown,” senior forward Maxime Hoppenot said. “We felt like we went in as the underdog but we came out and played our game and found a way to beat a great opponent.”
Tufts head coach Josh Shapiro said he goes into every season hoping to have a team that can compete for conference championships and ultimately earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
This Jumbos team fit that description.
“It’s just amazing to win a title,” Shapiro said. “We felt like this team was tougher and a little deeper than last year, and those qualities helped us out in the tournament. It turned out to be a great year for us.”
Peter Kramer started off the scoring for Tufts, punching in a goal at the 27:11 mark of the opening period. Nathan Majumder, who finished his day with two goals to pace the offense, scored just over six minutes later on a penalty kick to give the Jumbos a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Gus Santos struck for his only goal in the second half, scoring on a penalty kick at the 49:11 mark and Majumder finished off the scoring with under 10 minutes to play to seal the deal for the Jumbos.
The goal by Santos served as the fifth game-winning goal of the season. It was his 10th goal overall as he was named the top offensive player of the tournament. Santos scored twice in the 3-0 national semifinal win over Ohio Wesleyan on Friday.
Tufts (16-2-4) was actually out-shot 18-13 but Scott Greenwood held strong in goal, racking up eight saves. Matt Paprocki tallied nine saves for the Thunder (22-4), which was in the NCAA tournament for the 34th time in program history.
Wheaton didn’t make it easy on Tufts, closing the gap to one goal after Noah Anthony scored twice in a six-minute stretch, including once on a penalty kick, to cut the Jumbos’ lead to 3-2.
“I thought maybe we looked ahead a bit. We looked around and couldn’t believe what just happened,” Hoppenot said. “But Peter-Lee Kramer brought us together and said we weren’t going to let them tie the game. We got back on track and finished the game.”
Tufts wasn’t even sure if it would make the tournament after losing 2-1 to Connecticut College in the quarterfinal round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament.
But the Jumbos were given new life with an NCAA bid and made the most of it, allowing only three goals the entire run and topping two-time defending champion Messiah in the Elite Eight. Tufts earned a 1-0 win over the No. 1 team in the country.
Expectations will be high next season after making their deepest run in school history — the 1994 team reached the Elite Eight — but for now, the Jumbos are going to enjoy what they accomplished this season.
“It feels great to be able to go out a champion,” Hoppenot said. “It was a great experience and hopefully the teams after us can have the same kind of success.”