Women’s soccer (17-0-0, 9-0-0) capped its perfect regular season with a third consecutive NESCAC championship last weekend at home. Williams followed a 4-2 win against Tufts on Saturday with a highly contested 3-2 win over Middlebury. The win qualifies the Ephs, the NSCAA’s No. 2 ranked team, for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and gave them the privilege of hosting the first two rounds.
An unseasonably warm November day greeted the women as they prepared to top Middlebury in Sunday’s matchup. The Ephs knew they had a challenge awaiting them, as their regular season matchup against the Panthers resulted in a tight 1-0 win despite Middlebury outshooting Williams 15-5.
From the beginning, the atmosphere was intense, both in the stands and on the field. For the first 25 scoreless minutes, the Ephs’ offense repeatedly tried to barrel its way through the Panthers’ defense to no avail. Williams’ typical finesse and ability to capitalize on opportunities in front of the goal simply wasn’t effective.
Brett Eisenhart ’12 finally managed to put the ball in the back of the net in the 25th minute. Brianna Wolfson ’10 recovered the ball from Middlebury’s defense and passed the ball to Eisenhart, who dribbled past a defender and faked out the goalkeeper to score the first goal of the game. The Ephs’ lead, however, didn’t last long; the Panthers scored a mere 10 minutes later off of a corner kick.
Both teams became progressively more aggressive as play continued; the referee’s whistles blew more and more frequently, even after Sarah Walmsley ’10 was warned with a yellow card in the 40th minute. The half ended at 1-1 after the Panthers failed to capitalize on a direct kick right outside the 18-yard-box.
A messy, disorganized Williams defense allowed Middlebury to grab a 2-1 lead early in the second half. The Panthers scored out of a scrum in front of the net in the 62nd minute, as Williams’ goalkeeper Lauren Sinnenberg ’10 couldn’t fully stop the rolling ball into the corner.
The Ephs, however, turned up the intensity as they experienced their first deficit of the season. Nicole Stenquist ’12 settled the ball in the center of the field off a pass from Annelise Snyder ’11. Stenquist then fed it out towards the left sideline to Walmsley, who pushed the ball past her defender and nailed a shot past the keeper in the 71st minute.
With the game tied again, the Ephs were ready to take back their lead. Williams finished off the scoring when Wolfson saw Eisenhart open at the upper right-hand corner of the 18-yard box and passed her the ball; Eisenhart then arced a shot all the way across the box and into the left side of the net. The Williams defense held strong for the remaining five minutes to claim the NESCAC championship title with a final score of 3-2.
“We knew it would be a tight game going in,” tri-captain Kara Duggan ’11 said. “They have an incredibly strong midfield and are pretty big and strong physically. They definitely challenged us in the air and dribbling through the midfield. We kept working, regardless of the score, to capitalize on our opportunities and played strong team defense for 90 minutes.”
The NESCAC championship win over Middlebury was only made possible by the Ephs’ definitive 4-2 victory over the Jumbos on Saturday. Williams mounted a strong offense against Tufts early on, scoring three times in the first 25 minutes of play. Sara Wild ’11 went one-on-one with her defender right outside the 18-yard box before finding the space she needed and letting off a shot. Tufts’ goalkeeper got her hands on the ball but then bobbled it, bringing the score to 1-0 Williams. Duggan doubled the Ephs’ lead soon after, heading in a cross from Tyler Rainer ’11. Finally, Wild rounded out the Williams lead off of a direct kick just outside the 18-yard box, firing the ball into the lower left corner of the net during the 22nd minute.
Tufts, however, swiftly answered Williams’ goals with a shot from far outside the 18-yard box that arced over Sinnenberg’s head. In the first minutes of the second half, another Tufts goal brought the score to within one goal at 3-2.
The Ephs reestablished their two-goal lead at the 52-minute mark, when Rainer received a perfect pass from Eisenhart and dribbled around her defender to let fly a perfectly curved shot into the top left corner of the goal. This renewed Williams’ offensive drive, and the team continued to fire shots at Tufts’ goalkeeper, totaling 23 shots throughout the game.
The Williams defense stepped up its one-on-one game to keep Tufts’ scorers outside the 18-yard box. Sinnenberg made six saves in anchoring the Ephs’ defense.
Saturday’s win over Tufts was especially validating for Williams, considering their Oct. 24 matchup, which Williams won 1-0 with a controversial goal by Brianna Wolfson ’10.
“We were really psyched to get [another] chance at Tufts,” Duggan said. “We wanted to prove [that] we could beat them by a larger margin. The 4-2 result was awesome.”
Head Coach Michelyne Pinard agreed that the Ephs played a strong couple of games this weekend. “I thought it was one of the most complete weekends we have played,” she said. “We played two of the best teams in the country, so the goals allowed . . . [were] a result of us playing teams that are every bit as good as we are. The fact that we came out on top is a tribute to the character of these young women. They are resilient, tough, and they just never quit.”
Williams now looks forward to the quickly approaching NCAA tournament. “We’ve had our mind on NCAAs since day one,” Duggan said. “We have had a great regular season, but no one is satisfied just yet.”
Williams will host Keuka College in the first round of the NCAA tournament this weekend at Cole Field.