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UMass men’s soccer beats VCU to win A-10 tournament

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

When the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll came out in August, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team was picked to finish eighth—a fringe playoff team and nothing more.

Ten weeks, six conference wins, a regular season title and a tournament championship later, the Minutemen stand alone.

Goals from seniors Matthew Mooney and Alex DeSantis as well as freshman Davis Smith lifted UMass (15-3-3, 6-1-1 A-10) over Virginia Commonwealth (12-6-0, 6-2-0 A-10) in the A-10 tournament final on Sunday, a 3-1 win to take home the program’s first conference tournament championship since 2007.

“Absolutely delighted for our guys,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “We went ahead against them, we had our hands full in the first half and I thought we grew as the game went on.”

It was an emotional scene for a group of UMass seniors that went from winning three games in 2014 to earning conference supremacy in a final season out of a dream.

“Definitely our little core group of seniors, we’ve come from the bottom and today meant a lot to us,” Mooney said. “Every game we knew where we came from and that was our inspiration and today was a result of all that.”

“I couldn’t be happier, they’re a fantastic group of guys,” O’Leary said of his seniors. “The fun for me today was just stepping back and watching them celebrate the fun they were having because at the end of the day it has to be fun. We always say that our only goal is to get better and have fun and you can’t have much more fun than winning the conference title. So, all credit to them, they showed great perseverance throughout their college careers, they’ve been great role models, great leaders for this program and they got a great reward today. We won the league and now we won the conference tournament and earned an NCAA bid so it’s well deserved for these guys.”

Mooney, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, opened the scoring in the 55th minute, volleying home to put the Minutemen up 1-0.

“It was definitely not what I was expecting,” said Mooney, “but I’m glad it happened now. I’m not one to score lately but it was definitely an important goal to us, and thankfully we kept scoring on them too. We put three by a very good team today and that was very important for our confidence.”

The Rams responded 15 minutes later, as Francesco Amorosino placed a low shot just inside the post to equalize in the 70th minute.

“We scored a very good goal and we’re one-nil up, we felt we were in control,” said O’Leary, “we were under pressure but we felt we were quite under control. Then they scored and the next ten minutes is when I think we won the championship. The next ten minutes we defended corner kick after corner kick, guys were throwing their bodies in front of the ball and we needed to weather that storm. I think that was the key 10-minute period where we showed great resiliency and a really strong mentality and then we could find goals to see us to the championship.”

It was only a matter of time before Smith, the A-10 Rookie of the Year and one of the conference’s most prolific goalscorers, would add his name to the scoresheet. Mooney swung in a perfect cross, and a wide-open Smith buried it to push UMass back in front.

“It was just a lot of excitement,” Smith said, “but I don’t even think it’s really sunk in yet, how much that meant. It was an incredible feeling.”

It was fitting that senior Alex DeSantis, the fulcrum around which the Minutemen operate offensively, would strike the final blow. DeSantis fired a volley on goal, and VCU goalkeeper Mario Sequeira got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out, and UMass had a commanding 3-1 lead with just over seven minutes to play.

The Minutemen held on, and became the first team since Rhode Island in 2005 to win both the regular season and conference championships, and the first since URI in 1999 to win both without sharing the regular season title.

“We played as hard as we possibly could, that was huge as we all came to play today,” said Mooney. “It was definitely a tough game and we held on, we’re resilient and that’s kind of what it came down to.”

UMass earns an automatic NCAA tournament bid after the tournament victory, and will find out its opponent on Monday.

“I am very proud of this team,” O’Leary said. “We’ve been overachievers all three years. In the first year we were picked 12th and I think we were managed to finish tied for fourth, the second year we were picked 10th and we finished fourth and this year we were picked eighth. So it’s been a really enjoyable experience to coach this group and they’re a terrific bunch of lads.

“This is a pretty special group and this is a pretty special run we’ve gone on, and its good to see UMass at the top of the table.”

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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