Back in CAA semifinals, W&M men's soccer eyes upset of top-seeded Hofstra

Of William and Mary's top five leaders in points (goals, assists), only Tabb High product Reilly Maw is a senior.

Sophomores Ryder Bell and Antonio Bustamante each lead the men's soccer team with nine goals and four assists. Junior William Eskay (five goals, seven assists) and freshman Reeves Trott (five goals, two assists) of Lafayette High round out the list that leads the Colonial Athletic Association in points.

Offense was never going to be the question for the Tribe this season, though, as long as it stayed healthy.

With three consecutive shutouts, William and Mary's defense has paved the way for a late-season surge that has the fifth seeded Tribe (11-6-2) vying for a spot in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game.

After reaching the CAA tournament for the first time in two seasons, William and Mary knocked out No. 4 Elon 1-0 Saturday and will travel to top-seeded Hofstra (9-7-1) for a semifinal showdown Friday.

"And sticking to the plan and being sharp is the other piece of it," Tribe coach Chris Norris said. "It's not just about who you're playing, but how you're playing."

The recent winning combination in the back has included sophomore Marcel Berry moving to right back from midfielder and the insertion into the lineup of redshirt freshman Hristo Bustamante opposite Berry.

Freshman Tanner Shane and sophomore Remi Frost have paired in central defense the past two outings, one of which was a dramatic 1-0 win over Drexel last Saturday in the regular-season finale to clinch a valuable conference tournament berth for a lineup filled with underclassmen.

Antonio Bustamante netted the winner in the 89th minute on a feed from Eskay.

"I remember thinking as the 80th minute went by and it was still 0-0, 'All we need is one goal and we're in the tournament,' " Bustamante said. "And as soon as I scored, I was very excited. The first thing that popped in my mind was, 'We're going to the tournament.' "

Bustamante tallied again at Elon, scoring in the 18th after Eskay played a through-ball for him down the middle of the field.

"Most of what he's doing is reading situations and getting to good spots without the ball," Norris said of Bustamante. "His movement without the ball and willingness to run behind the defense and trust that guys are going to find him has been really good, and that's a hard thing to do."

William and Mary outshot Elon 12-5 and Tribe redshirt goalkeeper Phil Breno needed to make only one save, but it was a massive one. In the 59th, he came off his line to shut down Elon's leading scorer, Elijah Agu, on a one-versus-one.

The effort came on a long ball over top of William and Mary's back line, something the Tribe is likely to see less of against Hofstra, the preseason CAA favorite and reigning champion. The Pride is a technical bunch, strong in short space and featuring a roster laden with internationals, including preseason league Player of the Year Joseph Holland, an English midfielder.

"Their forwards are very athletic," Frost said. "They can also beat you with the long ball if your line is too high trying to stop the triangles."

Hofstra, which plays on artificial turf, claimed the previous meeting this season between the sides, 2-1, at home in Hempstead, N.Y.

"You have to beat the champion to be the champion," Norris said. "We're looking forward to the opportunity. Glad to have a shot at those guys. I feel like we're in the best position to possibly do that right now, playing well and healthy."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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