Women’s soccer in thick of title chase with 2-0 victory

Women’s soccer earned a crucial road-victory over Tufts this Saturday, moving back into a first-place tie with the Jumbos and Amherst atop the NESCAC table. Despite last week’s narrow loss to Middlebury, the Williams squad (9-3, 5-2 NESCAC) remains in good position to capture the conference title for the second year in a row.

“We feel good about how far we have come over the last two months,” Head Coach Michelyne Pinard said. “I think we have shown how mentally tough this group is, how much we want to win, and how determined we are to do so.”

Against Tufts, the Ephs were able to stifle an aggressive attack well enough to earn a 2-0 win. The Jumbos out-shot Williams 25-7, but could not overcome the sterling play of Eph goalkeeper Lindsay Starner ’05, who recorded 10 saves.

Sibling Stacey Starner ’03 provided some of the highlights on offense, tying the Williams women’s soccer all-time record for goals with her 38th career score. Hannah Stauffer ’05 opened the scoring for the Ephs midway through the second half, corralling a loose ball in front of the net before blasting a shot past Tufts goalkeeper Meg McCourt.

With time winding down, Tufts moved an extra attacker up the field in an attempt to even the score, and Williams took advantage. Stacey Starner and Julie O’Donnell ’05 got loose on a breakaway, with Starner finishing the play for her record-tying score. Starner’s 38 goals equal the mark set by Christine Boddicker ’88.

Last Saturday, Williams fell to Middlebury (8-3-1, 4-2-1 NESCAC) by the count of 2-1 on a gray, wet day at Cole Field. The loss ended the Ephs’ five game winning streak, momentarily dropping Williams out of the top spot in the NESCAC standings.

Middlebury jumped out to an early lead with two goals in the first twenty minutes, then held off a late Eph rally to secure the win. Both sides struggled in the sloppy conditions, as rain and gusting winds caused unpredictable bounces and shaky footing for the players.

Senior striker Meg Bonney, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week, scored both goals for the Panthers, including a breakaway score just three minutes into the contest. On the play, the Ephs suffered a crushing blow as the goalkeeper Starner was lost for the game with an injury. The collision occurred as a Middlebury attacker swept into the Williams penalty area – Starner lay grounded for several minutes before struggling to the sideline. Fortunately for Williams, backup goalkeeper Clara Hard ’06 filled in ably for Starner with several impressive saves and prodigious punts.

Bonney then put Middlebury ahead 2-0 at 16:27 with her second score, assisted by Leah Cumsy-Whitlock. Bonney took a pass outside the top right corner of the penalty box, made a move inside to beat the Eph defenders, and ripped a line drive into the top right corner of the goal.

The Ephs got a break two minutes later after an apparent third score by Middlebury was nullified by an off-sides call.

Williams finally responded at 76:57 with a goal from Starner. Midfielder Elise Henson ’06 sent a cross from the right side, which Panther goalkeeper Els Van Woert deflected before Starner headed the ball in the goal.

The Ephs kept the pressure on, but as was the case for most of the day, the staunch Panther defense held Williams off in the game’s waning moments. Van Woert finished with six saves for Middlebury, with Hard matching that tally for the Ephs.

In non-conference play on Oct. 9, Williams defeated then-14th ranked Keene State 2-1 at Szot Park in Chicopee, Mass. Blair Coffman ’06 put the Ephs on the board with her first score of the year midway through the first half. However, the Owls responded with a free-kick goal by Erin Lester with less than a minute to play in the first half.

The Ephs regrouped at intermission and clearly dominated play in the second half of the contest.

Less than ten minutes after the break, Kristen Van Woert ’04 scored the game-winner off of an assist from Sharla Dodd ’03. Keene State had several chances to even the score, but proved unable to convert.

Williams has won six of its last seven contests as they head towards the NESCAC tournament on Nov. 3. Their upcoming clash with Amherst will be the Ephs’ biggest game of the season, as the winner will likely finish at least tied for the conference crown, while the loser will probably have to settle for second or third place.

Williams took it to Amherst in the teams’ regular season contest last season and came away with a 2-0 victory.

The Jeffs had the last laugh, however, as they pulled off a stunning 2-1 win in double overtime of the NESCAC Championship game last season on the Ephs’ home turf.