Women’s soccer takes it to the Panthers in tournament opener

With three victories in their last four games, including an impressive 3-0 conquest of Middlebury in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC Tournament on Sunday, women’s soccer (12-3-1; 7-2-1 in the NESCAC) is now just two wins away from the NESCAC title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Div. III national tournament.

The third-seeded Ephs will travel to Tufts University in Medford, Mass., to take on second-seeded Bowdoin in the NESCAC semifinals this Saturday, with the winner advancing to the championship game against the winner of the Tufts-Connecticut College contest.

“Right now we’re playing some of our best soccer of the year,” head coach Michelyne Pinard said. “But we’re still going through good and bad spurts. This weekend I’m hoping that we’ll be able to put everything together for the full 90 minutes.”

Against Middlebury, the Ephs avenged a 2-1 loss to the Panthers on Oct. 12 with their fourth consecutive shutout performance. Brittany Esty ’05, Claire Samuel ’04 and Stacey Starner ’03 each contributed a goal for Williams, and goalkeeper Lindsay Starner ’05 stopped ten shots for her seventh shutout of the season.

“We are starting to develop a great rivalry with Middlebury,” Pinard said. “Amherst is still our number one rival, but the past few times we have played Middlebury, the games have been very intense and competitive. They are one of the best teams we have played all year, and it’s great to be able to beat them in such a big game.”

Buoyed by the return of defender Colleen Doody ’03, the Ephs have yet to surrender a goal in the two games they have played since the star back’s reappearance in the lineup.

“It’s great to have Colleen back,” Pinard said. “She is definitely an impact player who commands respect from both her teammates and the opposing players, and anytime you have somebody like that in your lineup it’s going to help.”

Esty put Williams on the board early, scoring off of a cross from Afton Johnson ’05 just under four minutes into the contest. The two sides battled evenly from then on until late in the second half, when Samuel and Stacey Starner put the game away with two goals in less than eight minutes.

Starner set up Samuel’s score, penetrating the Panther defense before feeding Samuel in the top right corner of the penalty box. Samuel then blasted a one-time left footed shot over the Panther goalkeeper, Els Van Woert, and into the top left corner of the net.

With time winding down, Emily Driscoll ’05 helped put the game out of reach, pushing the ball down the right sideline to set up the final score. Van Woert came out to challenge on the play, but Driscoll found Starner in the middle of the penalty box, and Starner booted the ball into the open net.

With the goal and assist, Starner raised her career point total to 101, making her the first player in the history of Williams College women’s soccer to amass 100 points.

In the regular season finale on Saturday, Williams earned a tie for the NESCAC regular season title with a resounding 5-0 thrashing of Little Three rival Wesleyan (2-11-1; 0-8-1). Williams, Bowdoin and Tufts each finished with a 6-2-1 conference record, but the Jumbos earned the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of the NESCAC tie-breaking procedures.

Five different players scored for the Ephs against the Cardinals, with Sharla Dodd ’03, Lindsay Dwyer ’05, Blair Coffman ’06, Kate Harkey ’06 and Stacey Starner each contributing a tally. Starner’s goal was the 39th of her collegiate career, surpassing the Williams record of 38 previously held by Christine Boddicker ’88.

Dodd netted the only goal the Ephs would need at 7:02 on a flick off a cross from Samuel. The Ephs doubled their lead at 38:40 when Dwyer converted off a pass from Harkey. At 44:32, Coffman headed in a corner kick from Ann Woods ’05 to boost the Eph lead to 3-0.

Harkey made it 4-0 Williams at 67:21 when she stole the ball from a Wesleyan defender and beat Wesleyan goalkeeper Christina Farrell. Starner tallied her record-breaking goal at 81:51 off a beautiful through pass from Dwyer.

Lindsay Starner made one save in 45 minutes of play, and Clara Hard ’06 maintained the shutout with one save in the final 45 minutes.

After defeating Middlebury, the Ephs will look to avenge their only other regular season conference loss which came against Bowdoin, who defeated Williams 1-0 on Sept. 21. The winner of the championship game this coming Sunday will then earn an automatic bid to the national tournament.

“We didn’t want the Middlebury game to be the last game together for our group of seniors,” Pinard said. “Hopefully, we can keep on winning and continue to grow as a team through November.”