Women’s soccer cinches NESCAC title

Women’s soccer (12-3-2, 5-2-2 in the NESCAC) dropped archrival Amherst 1-0 to claim the team’s fourth straight and fifth overall NESCAC title after overcoming Middlebury 2-0 on Friday in the NESCAC semifinals. Saturday’s defeat of Amherst was particularly exciting because the women had fallen 1-0 to Amherst during regular season play. A late goal by tri-captain and NESCAC Player of the Week Sara Wild ’11 upset the NESCAC No. 2 Jeffs to win the game for her team.

The two teams battled neck-and-neck with neither team seeming to gain the advantage for the majority of the game, though Williams outshot Amherst 4-3 in the first half. Laura Wann ’14 started in net for the Ephs, playing the first 45 minutes and recording two saves. The Eph offense was also ready to work, with Wild taking Williams’ sole corner kick a mere six minutes into the match. Wild served the ball into the box and fellow tri-captain Kara Duggan ’11 redirected it toward the net. Brett Eisenhart ’12, the Ephs’ leading scorer, raced after the ball, but Amherst keeper Allie Horowitz beat her to it and made the save.

Williams had more scoring opportunities in the first half, including a free-kick following an Amherst handball. Wild, Eisenhart and Bridget Gallagher ’13 set up the kick, with Wild and Eisenhart connecting for a quality scoring chance that just missed the net. The Ephs stepped up the offensive but were unable to score, and the half ended in a 0-0 tie.

Both teams entered the second half looking for the win, and for a moment it seemed that Amherst might take the lead as the Jeffs created a quality chance in the first moments of the half. Fortunately, the Eph defense defused the attack and the ball went wide.

The half continued to go back-and-forth until, with 28 minutes left in the game, second half netminder Julia Schreiber ’11 came out of the net to make a save. The ball came loose, creating a scramble in front of the net. Amherst sophomore Hannah Cooper took control and attempted to put the ball in the net, but her shot went wide.

The Ephs finally got their chance 12 minutes later. Hayley Cook ’14, Annelise Snyder ’11 and Wild combined to score the championship-winning goal, which marked Wild’s seventh goal of the season. After receiving the ball from Snyder, Cook, coming down the left side of the field, crossed the ball to her waiting teammate. Wild placed the ball in the lower-left hand corner of the net, beating Horowitz and securing the game for the women.

“Amherst is an incredible team,” Head Coach Michelyne Pinard said. “[It is] the best team we’ve seen with some of the best forwards. Our backs and goalkeepers were solid the whole game, so tight and together. Our midfielders did a great job of wearing down the Amherst midfielders.”

This year’s seniors – Wild, Duggan, Schreiber, Snyder, Tyler Rainer ’11 and Jackie Russo ’11 – have earned a NESCAC title every year since beginning their collegiate careers. They are 11-0 in NESCAC tournament play. Sunday’s win makes the team, 15-14-8 against Amherst in the all-time tally.

Wild commented especially on what the championship title means to this year’s seniors. “I honestly cannot describe what it feels like to have four NESCAC titles in a row,” she said. “It’s an indication of the work Michelyne and the players before us put in to build up this program, and it feels amazing to be able to continue the success.”

Sunday’s victory would not have been possible without Williams’ dismissal of NESCAC rival Middlebury. The Panthers and Ephs met in the semifinals after the women dropped Middlebury in their last regular season game on Oct. 29. Williams once again emerged victorious on Friday, defeating Middlebury 2-0.

The first half was once again a tight one, with Williams outshooting Middlebury by only one shot at 7-6. Schreiber played all 90 minutes in net, facing eight goals and recording five saves. Wild scored the first goal of the game off a free kick just 28 minutes into the game to give Williams a 1-0 advantage.

Wild had another opportunity with ten minutes remaining in the half when she was fouled inside the box and awarded a penalty kick. Unfortunately, her shot went wide, and the Ephs closed out the half with a slim one-goal lead.

The Ephs and Panthers continued to duke it out, but the second half remained relatively uneventful, though the women did outshoot Middlebury 5-2. With 3:50 left to play, Cook found Nicole Stenquist ’12 for the second goal of the game. The point was Stenquist’s first goal of the year and Cook’s third assist. The final tally saw the women garnering a 2-0 victory and the rights to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

“We could not be more excited about winning a fourth NESCAC championship,” Duggan said. “We have had a few bumps this season, but it is great to see everything come together when it counts. There is no sweeter form of revenge than beating Amherst at Amherst.”

With the NESCAC win, Williams receives the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Ephs are 6-3 in the NCAAs since 2007, having advanced to the Elite Eight twice and the Final Four once.

“I am so, so proud of this team,” Pinard said. “It would have been easy for a team to get discouraged early in the year when things weren’t going exactly as we’d hoped, but this team stepped up to the challenge and worked through that disappointment. The end result was getting to a point where we are playing our best soccer at the perfect time.”

Twelfth-ranked Williams will play Lasell College in the first round of play, which will be held at Brandeis in Waltham, Mass., on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Brandeis, who is ranked 25th, and Castleton State will face off the same day. The winners of each game will play each other the following day.

“For our game this weekend, I think the team needs to keep focusing on the basics … We need to take care of the ball and win the little battles,” Duggan said. “At this point, if you lose you’re done, so we’re heading into this weekend with more focused energy and determination than ever.”

Wild pointed out that the team is well prepared for NCAAs. “Our team just keeps getting more solid, more confident and more prepared to face the next challenge. I am so excited to see how we compete this weekend against Lasell.”

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