Coming off four straight shutouts the Castleton men’s soccer team won’t have to worry about playing a road playoff game, claiming the No. 1 seed in the North Atlantic Conference playoffs. After three consecutive 6-0 victories over SUNY Canton, Johnson St. and Maine Maritime followed by a 4-0 win against Husson, Castleton found themselves 9-1-2 in its last 12 games and 10-6-2 overall.
“It’s a lot of not giving silly fouls,” said senior goalkeeper, Aaron Parker, on the recent streak of shutouts. “In a couple games we’ve given up some fouls at the top of the box and they’ve had some free kick shots.”
Parker has a save percentage of .784 with 76 saves which ranks him fourth in the NAC in each of those categories, while also posting a 1.24 goals against average which is second in the league.
This is the first time since 2013 that the Spartans have grabbed the top seed for the NAC playoffs.
“The defense is good enough to keep the offense away from coming in the middle and they don’t get a good enough shot,” Parker said about the team’s victories to secure the top spot.
But there were some bumps in the road. The Spartans started the season 1-5 and tensions were high. After losing to Potsdam 4-1 on Sept. 10 the team cam together to try and reverse their losing skid.
“We just had a respect issue and we discussed it as a team… I think that really helped the team aspect on and off the field,” said sophomore midfielder, Jack Kingdon.
The Spartans would lose the following game to Keene St. 2-1, but Kingdon said it was the “turning point.”
“I think it was a little bit of a chemistry issue, we weren’t really gelling to well and getting used to new personalities,” said junior defender and captain, Thomas Kirk.
The team has turned it around in the second half of the season behind the offense of freshman forward Seraphin Iradukunda.
“He’s one of the most skillful players I’ve ever played with,” Kirk said
Head coach John O’Connor said that Iradukunda adds another dimension to their offense. Iradukunda is currently tied for the league lead in goals with 13 and third in points with 30.
“He can break down players individually. We have players that can do that but that’s kind of his consistency that he gives us is he’s always a threat. Whether it’s getting behind whether it’s getting the ball at his feet and dribbling people,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also mentioned how Iradukunda and Kingdon have meshed during the second half of the season contributing to such a fluid offensive attack. Kingdon was last season’s rookie of the year and is third in the NAC for assists with nine.
“At the beginning it was like we were playing two different games.” Iradukunda said about he and Kingdon’s disconnection.
He added that both have good footwork so with some help from coaches they were able to combine their attacks.
Both Kingdon and Kirk agree that the mindset going into their semifinal match is one game at a time.
“(We) can’t overlook anybody and it showed last year, got upset in the semifinals by (New England College). They were hot and we just took them for granted,” Kirk said.
Kingdon also added that if the team stays calm and stays composed they’ll be where they want to be – NAC Champions.
But Iradukunda has a different mindset.
“Five goals probably. Maybe six, I don’t know. Sometimes coach doesn’t let me have my hat trick but it’s okay,”Iradukunda said. “I’m going to try and have three in the first half then when he takes me out I’ll at least already have three.”
With an 8-0-1 conference record the Spartans earned a first-round bye and will face New England College in the semifinal match on Nov. 1 at 6pm at Spartan Stadium.
“We have to set the tempo we have to show them that we mean business and that they have no chance of scoring on us, playing with us, they don’t belong on the same field as us. We have to set that tone the first five minutes,” Iradukunda said.