At-large bid sends Ephs to NCAA tourney

Women’s soccer (10-4-3, 7-2-1 in the NESCAC) conquered Middlebury in penalty kicks in a NESCAC semifinal match on Saturday. The shootout victory enabled the women to advance to the NESCAC championship game against Amherst on Sunday.

Nicole Stenquist ’12
A pass from tri-captain Nicole Stenquist ’12 led to the Ephs’ goal against the Jeffs on Sunday. Photo Courtesy of Sports Information.

After battling the Jeffs for 90 minutes and leading for the majority of the match, the Ephs suffered a 2-1 loss that ended their tournament run and hopes of claiming a fifth-straight NESCAC title. Despite the loss, the women received an at-large bid to the Div. III NCAA tournament.

On Sunday, Amherst controlled play offensively in the opening minutes, earning several good opportunities off five corners in the half. The Ephs’ closest scoring opportunities came off set pieces. In the 33rd minute, Lilly Wellenbach ’15 sent a ball into the box to Hayley Cook ’14, who fired a shot just over the crossbar. Less than 20 minutes later, tri-captain Sachi Siegelman ’12 launched a free kick into the box, but Jeff keeper Allie Horowitz beat tri-captain Nicole Stenquist ’12 to the ball.

The Ephs managed to find the net in the 38th minute of play, Stenquist played a ball from the center of the field to Carla Nicasio ’14 on the left flank. Nicasio beat her defender and dribbled down the flank. She then crossed the ball to the center of the box where Wellenbach headed it past a stranded Horowitz into the net, putting the Ephs up 1-0.

Amherst’s closest scoring opportunity of the half came soon after, when Mel Stier rifled a shot from the left flank. Williams keeper Laura Wann ’13 made a diving save to stop the effort; Stier collected the rebound and fired another shot, but Kristine Nakada ’13 headed the ball out of the open net, preserving the Ephs’ 1-0 lead at the half.

The Jeffs opened the second with aggressive offensive play, but the Ephs held off their attacks until the final eight minutes of the match. In the 82nd minute, the Jeffs scored a goal off an Eph turnover in midfield; after the ball was tackled away from an Amherst attacker, Kathryn Nathan fired a shot from the left corner of the box into the upper right corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1.

Less than three minutes later, Nathan struck a corner kick into the box toward the back of the six. Jeff Sandy Shepherd snuck behind the defense and headed the ball into the net, giving the Jeffs a 2-1 lead in the 85th minute. Williams could not come back in the final five minutes, and Amherst took a 2-1 win.

Siegelman was proud of the team’s character and competitive spirit. “I’m so happy with the way the team came out and competed,” she said. “The way the team fought today showed its heart and character. This is easily the most resilient team I have ever played for.”

On Saturday, Williams narrowly escaped Middlebury in the semifinal after a sudden-death penalty kick round. The teams were even, with the Ephs tallying 16 shots and the Panthers 14. Neither team found the in regulation. After two overtimes, the game was still scoreless, sending the game to a shootout.

The women  scored on four of their five PKs.  Keeper Wann saved one of the Panthers’ kicks, and the opening round of the shoot out ended in a 4-4 draw. With the result still undecided, the women entered a round of sudden death penalty kicks. Chloe Kuh ’13 scored the Ephs’ first sudden death penalty kick. Panther Devin Perkins then stepped up to respond, but her shot hit the crossbar. The miss sent the Ephs to the finals with a 5-4 advantage in PKs.

Despite the losing to Amherst in the finals, Williams earned an at-large bid to the Div. III NCAA Championships. The women will face Virginia Wesleyan in the first round. The time of the match has not been determined, but the game will take place Saturday at the Stevens Institute in Hoboken, N.J.