Women’s soccer advances in NCAAs

Between the Homecoming festivities, the influx of thousands of fans and numerous Williams-Amherst matchups on Saturday, it was almost easy to overlook the most important match of the season for women’s soccer. Despite the various other sporting spectacles, hundreds of fans still made their way to Cole Field to watch the Ephs (17-0) defeat Springfield, 1-0, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

It was a sunny-but-brisk Saturday afternoon as Williams stepped onto Cole Field for their first match of the national tournament. With a bye in the first round of play Williams faced Springfield in the second round. Springfield advanced to Saturday’s game after beating Husson 3-0 on Wednesday.

Williams defeated Springfield, 4-0 in September in the Ephs’ first home game of the season. In that contest Williams overpowered Springfield, controlling possession of the ball and only allowing the Pride one shot on goal. Since that matchup, Springfield has reworked its roster and won 12 of its last 14 games.

Of course, the same can be said for the Ephs. In that first Springfield contest Head Coach Michelyne Pinard made twenty substitutions, allowing her young, strong team members to all get playing time. “Our depth is a strength and we use it as much as we can,” Pinard said. “Our freshman and sophomores provide a lot of speed and tenacity. This helps our upperclassmen accomplish what they want to accomplish which is to compete at the highest level they possibly can.”

The Williams offense looked strong at the beginning of the game, controlling possession and creating numerous scoring opportunities. Midfielders Kaolin McEvoy ’08, Alexa Herlach ’08 and Sara Wild ’11 all helped the offense string together solid passes, while keeping the ball away from the eager feet of the Pride. Despite their clean play, the Ephs failed to capitalize on many of their scoring opportunties.

Fortunately for the Ephs, one of their eighteen shots on goal did find the back of the net. The goal came twenty minutes into the game when an Eph was fouled on the left side of the goal, just outside the penalty box. This gave midfielder Ana Sani ’08 the opportunity to place a cross in front of the goal from the far left side. Williams’ leading scorer Gabrielle Woodson ’09 was there to put her head on the ball, but Pride goalkeeper Sue Jenny deflected the shot. The ball rebounded back in front of the goal where Sarah Walmsley ’10 was waiting to knock it in for the unassisted goal.

As the game wore on Springfield increased their pressure and physicality in an attempt to slow down Williams’ offensive assault, as well as break down the women’s seemingly impenetrable defense. By the final ten minutes of the game, the Pride’s strategy looked as if it was beginning to work. The Ephs were tired, and the Pride offense looked as if it might notch the game even at one goal apiece.

“We were expecting a physical game as Springfield is a great team,” Pinard said. “Springfield brought some great pressure; they took advantage when we had little breakdowns, and we broke down a little in the last 10 minutes and they definitely took advantage of that.”

This breakdown showed in the stats as Springfield increased their shots from two to five from the first to the second period, while cutting down Williams’ shots on goal from 18 to seven.

Despite the Pride’s late second half surge, Eph goalkeeper Lauren Sinnenberg ’10 remained calm, recording four saves. It was Sinnenberg’s 13th shut out of the season and her 17th straight victory in goal, as the defense and the Ephs prevailed in the end.

Williams will host Hamilton in the Sweet 16 on Saturday at 11 a.m.