Ephs upend Mules with PK, advance to semifinals

Kristi Kirshe ’17 totalled five shots for the Ephs in their 1-0 victory over the Mules in the NESCAC quarterfinals last Saturday.
Kristi Kirshe ’17 totalled five shots for the Ephs in their 1-0 victory over the Mules in the NESCAC quarterfinals last Saturday.

Last Saturday, Cole Field once again proved impenetrable to visiting teams, as women’s soccer (15-1, 9-1 in the NESCAC) battled its way through a tense NESCAC quarterfinal match-up with Colby. In spite of the 2-0 win that the Ephs claimed on the first day of the regular season over the Mules, this rematch would not prove to be as straightforward, as a stifling defense was the story of the day for both sides. It summed up the marvelous defensive displays by both teams that the only difference between the two at the end of the 90 minutes was a well-taken 67th-minute penalty kick from Eph defender tri-captain Lilly Wellenbach ’15, that lifted the Ephs into the NESCAC semifinals with a 1-0 victory.

Just past the 66-minute mark, Eph Evan Gancedo ’18 drove into the left side of the Mules’ penalty area, where she was clipped from behind by a rash challenge from a Mule defender, and the referee took little time to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot. Wellenbach stepped up to take the Ephs’ first penalty of the season and dispatched it calmly into the back of the net, sending Mule keeper Emily Brook the wrong way in the process.

Neither side saw a plethora of chances to open up the scoring before Wellenbach’s 67th-minute penalty, especially in the first half.

One of the few chances in the first 45 minutes came from Mule freshman Laura Arnold just inside of five minutes. Inside the Ephs penalty area, Arnold made a darting run across the face of the goal and flashed her shot on-target, but Eph keeper and tri-captain Hannah Van Wetter ’15 made quick work of the effort.

The second chance of the game fell to Alex McInturf ’15, who controlled a failed attempt at a clearance by a Mule defender about thirty yards out, before launching a long-distance effort that forced Brook to tip the ball over the bar, keeping the scores level.

As the second half got underway, the Ephs came out the stronger of the two teams, creating a pair of good chances before Wellenbach’s first goal of her senior season.

First, in the 52nd minute, forward Kristi Kirshe ’17 unleashed a burst of speed down the right flank to outpace her defender, before she sent a low cross into the box toward the back post to the feet of Crystal Lewin ’16. With Brook out of position due to the ever-present threat of a Kirshe shot, Lewin had an open net to fire into, but an amazing last ditch challenge by Mule defender Emilie Klein saw the ball carom off Lewin’s leg and away from the gaping goalmouth.

Eight minutes later, Audrey Thomas ’17 had a chance to put the Ephs up. Once again, Kirshe found space down the right flank and created the opportunity, racing toward the byline and sliding another cross into the box. This time, the ball came to the near post, where Thomas was waiting to pounce, but she couldn’t manage to steer her effort on target, blasting the ball wide of the right post of Brook’s goal.

The best chance for an equalizer came in the 87th minute off a free kick won in the midfield. Mule Lauren McCarthy took control of the situation and sent a well-weighted lob into the box that looked really dangerous, as Van Wetter dove to smother but couldn’t quite get the job done. Luckily, an Eph defender was on the scene to control the ball and smash it away from the danger area.

It was a solid all-around defensive performance that earned the Ephs the 1-0 win and wrapped up the Ephs’ fifth clean sheet in a row and twelfth of the season.

Their previous clean sheet was four days earlier on Oct. 28, when the women faced off against Hamilton for home field advantage in the NESCAC tournament. They knew that if they emerged with any sort of result, draw or win, they would be playing on the familiar grass of Cole Field throughout the NESCAC tournament. With a perfect home record this season, including only conceding four goals at home, it’s understandable how formidable Cole Field is to play on for any team, NESCAC or otherwise.

In a first half and a game largely dominated by Williams, the women put in another outstanding shift defensively as they completely shut down the Hamilton offense, not allowing a single shot on goal in the first half.

The Ephs’ best chance of the half came in the dying minutes, as Eph center back Zoe Trutner ’16 cut out a pass between a pair of Continental attackers and lofted a beautiful ball all the way to the other side of the field, over the Continental back line, to match the perfectly timed run of Dani Sim ’18, who was all by herself with only Continental keeper Rachel Cooley left to beat. Sim drove into the box and pulled up at fifteen yards, launching a right-footed curling effort that looked destined for the back of the net, but it somehow bounced off the right post and away from danger. The first half ended with a score of 0-0.

Just over two minutes into the second half, Thomas worked her way back onto the score sheet as she fired home her 11th goal of the season. Thomas did well to outrun her defenders, control the ball, round the Continentals goalkeeper and tap the ball into the back of an empty net, showing why she is the leading scorer in the NESCAC.

Thomas would not be satisfied with just the one goal however, as two minutes later she tallied her second of the game, again one-on-one with the Hamilton goalie, and finished to make the score 2-0.

The Continentals would rue their missed opportunities, as Eph Alison Magruder ’15 scored her second goal in as many games late in the second half to finish off the game in favor of the Ephs, by a score of 3-0.

“It is postseason soccer, so we are focusing on taking it one game at a time and recognizing that we need to take care of 90 minutes in order to keep playing together,” Van Wetter said. “We’re focused entirely on winning the NESCAC championship this weekend on Cole Field.”

The women, with their win over Colby, advance to the NESCAC semifinals next Saturday. They are set to have a rematch with rival Middlebury, whom the women saw off by a 1-0 margin on Oct. 19 on Senior Day at Cole Field. By virtue of topping the NESCAC regular season table, the NESCAC semifinals and final will be held at Cole Field, and the Ephs will look to add to their perfect record at home this season. Kickoff time has yet to be determined.