By finding a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation, women’s soccer finished its season at an undefeated 13-0-0, with a 9-0-0 record in the NESCAC. It is the first time in school history that the team has achieved such perfection, unblemished by ties or losses.
The members of the team knew the opportunity to make history was open to them before the Tufts game, but they also understood the dangers awaiting them in a Jumbos team that finished the 2000 season as the national runner-up.
At the outset, the game had a very uneven, sloppy feel to it, as both teams tried to assert themselves in the midfield. Nevertheless, the Ephs were able to create some threatening chances, in part thanks to shoddy play from Jumbo keeper Mara Schanfield. On two consecutive plays, she bobbled and turned over the ball off long crosses, yet both times the alert defense was able to reorganize and clear the ball.
After these moments of panic, Tufts reminded the Ephs why they were national runners-up last year with two quick thundering and accurate shots that could have put Williams behind.
The first, a sterling effort from 30-yards out, forced a fine fingertip save from keeper Abi Jackson ’03. Off the subsequent corner, the ball fell for an even better effort from 25 yards out. The diving Jackson was helplessly beaten, but the ball hit her right goalpost.
Williams, in typical fashion, responded to the opposing team’s quality play by showing some of their own. In the 15th minute, CC Ciafone ’02 dribbled forward and played a perfect ball to Marlene Bonasera ’02. Bonasera stayed onside, took several powerful strides past her marker and clinically fired low and to Schanfield’s right to put Williams up 1-0.
Off the ensuing kickoff, the Jumbos marched forward and pressed deep into the Ephs’ half.
The ball was played into a crowded box, and came to the feet of Jumbo Lynn Cooper, who had her back to the goal. Sensing the chance, she turned quickly, and pocketed her effort into an open net to even the score at one-apiece.
Neither team was able to add to their tally as both teams were fighting tooth and nail for every ball in an increasingly physical game.
The Williams defense responded to their earlier lapse by shutting down the Jumbo offensive, with Colleen Doody ’03 doing an especially good job on Tufts’ leading scorer, Jess Trombly, along the flanks.
Tufts was finally able to pull ahead in the 74th minute off a free kick from the touchline. The ball was chipped high and to the back post. Goalie Lindsay Starner ’05 was left in no-man’s land, and Jumbo Sara Standish found a crack in the Williams defense. She rose, unmarked, to head home from point blank range.
The Ephs’ dreams of a perfect regular season were hanging by a thread, or more precisely, 16 minutes. The crowd sensed this urgency, and responded by becoming louder and rowdier in its support.
The Ephs refused to wave the white flag, however, and pressed forward relentlessly in search of an equalizer. Their break came when a header from Kristen Van Woert ’04 sailed over the Tufts defensive backline. Stacey Starner ’03 took full advantage of the opening. With the pressure of an entire team’s hopes riding on her back, she coolly avoided the offsides trap, settled herself, and hammered the ball under the despairing keeper to even the score and reanimate the Ephs’ once sinking chances.
With 10 minutes remaining and the game up for grabs, both teams refused to play back and wait for an overtime period; instead they attacked all out, seeking a winning goal. With under a minute remaining, sudden death overtime seemed inevitable. Yet, in a cap to a game and a final 20 minutes that will surely stay fresh in the minds of the players and spectators for a long time to come, Claire Samuel ’04 finished what had been started 13 games ago.
Emily Driscoll ’05 was able to reach out and keep the ball in the zone on an attempted clearance. Lindsay Dwyer ’05 headed the ball over to Samuel, who wasted no time in sliding a left footed shot into the net with just 24 ticks left. Pandemonium ensued, as Williams players tackled each other in joy, and the crowd went wild.
The Ephs had done it, and in marvelous style. This game was soccer at its best, if not in fluid attacking technique, than in the physical, emotional, scrappy and relentless pace it was played at, and of course, in the miracle comeback that nobody except these deservedly perfect Ephs believed could happen. Head Coach Lisa Melendy praised the “can-do spirit” of this year’s team as a primary reason for it success.
Earlier in the week, the team defeated Springfield College (12-2-1) in a tight match, by a score of 2-0. Williams jumped out to a lead in the 25th minute. Brittany Esty ’05 sent a deep ball that carried past the defense.
Samuel outran the Springfield backline to release a powerful point blank shot, only for Springfield goaltender Christine McCarey to block it. Yet the keeper’s good work was futile as Starner capitalized by being in the right place at the right time to slot home the rebound.
Williams added a second goal to solidify its lead in the 51st minute. Van Woert’s determined pursuit of a ball led to a Springfield foul.
Off the ensuing free kick, Van Woert deflected the ball across to Ciafone, who found an opening, and stood unmarked in front of the net. McCarey had no chance as the senior chipped the ball into the open net.
“I thought Springfield was about the best game we had played all season,” Coach Melendy said afterward. “That’s exactly what you want to see at this time of year.”
More important than maintaining the Ephs’ perfect season, however, the victory had direct implications on the Ephs chances of reaching the NCAA post-season tournament
Having beaten Springfield, the team could still be granted a berth in the NCAA tournament even if it should lose in the finals of the NESCAC tournament.
Had Springfield won, the Ephs’ at-large bid for the NCAA tournament would likely have gone to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) conference, in which Springfield plays.
Williams has earned a first-round bye in the NESCAC tournament, finishing three games ahead of second place Middlebury. The semifinals and finals will be played on Cole Field in Williamstown. The semifinals will take place at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the final set for noon on Sunday.