Women’s soccer (18-1-1, 9-1 in the NESCAC) put on a dominant display in the opening rounds of the NCAA Div. III tournament, defeating Lasell 2-0 last Saturday. Williams, ranked No. 5 in the NSCAA Div. III coaches poll, followed with a 4-1 victory over No. 23 Ithaca last Sunday to advance to the Round of 16.
“We are incredibly pleased with the way the team rose to the challenge of the NCAA opening games this weekend,” tri-captain and second-team All-NESCAC selection Hannah Van Wetter ’15 said.
The Ephs’ defense was strong in the first half during Saturday’s game against the Lasers on Cole Field, not allowing a shot until the last five minutes of the half. Audrey Thomas ’17 had a pair of solid chances early in the first half, but her first went just over the crossbar, and her second was stopped by the Lasers’ goalie.
Just one minute into the second half, the Ephs’ three first-team All-NESCAC selections worked together to put the Ephs up 1-0. Mai Mitsuyama ’16 launched a pass to Thomas, who maneuvered past the defense and found Kristi Kirshe ’17 for the score.
For the fourth time in their past six games, the Ephs followed one goal with another under five minutes later. Kirshe dished the ball to Thomas in the penalty box and made a dash for the goal. Thomas touched the ball back and Kirshe sent the ball into the net to give the Ephs a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute that the Lasers could not overcome.
“[Ithaca] played a different style of play so it took us the first half to get settled and start playing our game, something that clearly clicked in the second half with two quick goals,” tri-captain and second-team All-NESCAC selection Lilly Wellenbach ’15 said.
Williams got off to an even faster start against Ithaca last Sunday. In the eighth minute, Crystal Lewin ’16 delivered a brilliant cross to Thomas, who snuck the ball into the goal for the score. Under two minutes later, the Ephs found themselves in scoring position again. Thomas sent a pass through the Bombers’ defense straight to Kirshe, who booted a hard kick into the upper corner of the net, setting the score at 2-0 in favor of the Ephs.
“[Kirshe] and Audrey [Thomas] combining against any team are just so dangerous,” tri-captain Hana Tomozawa ’15 said. “Ithaca is a strong program, and we knew that we needed to take care of the ball and finish our chances in order to make the difference in the weekend.”
Van Wetter was first tested in goal in the 21st minute with a curving ball by the Bombers, but handled it with ease for her only save of the half. The Bombers nearly cut the Ephs’ lead to one with a dangerous free kick just outside the box in the 30th minute, but it soared just wide. On the other side of the ball, the Ephs racked up 13 shots, including a great chance by Thomas off an Ephs’ header, but the Bombers’ goalie saved the shot.
As light snow flurries began to fall at the start of the second half, the Ephs maintained their intensity, with a stunning strike by Kirshe that sailed perfectly over the goalie’s head and into the back of the net. With Kirshe’s 16th goal of the season, the Ephs went up 3-0, and Kirshe earned the school single-season record for goals scored, held previously by Gabrielle Woodson ’09 since 2008. Kirshe brought her season total to 17 goals just four minutes later after attacking a bobbled ball in the box, finishing off her hat trick.
“Kirshe in particular was incredible, she’s playing with so much confidence right now,” Van Wetter said. “Five goals in two NCAA tournament games is amazing and her willingness to battle and compete lifted all of us over the course of the weekend.”
Even with the score 4-0 in favor of the Ephs, neither side let up through the remainder of the game. In the 64th minute, Natalie Weyerhaeuser ’15 had a chance on goal, and even with her excellent effort, could not slot a shot past the goalie. Five minutes later, Alex McInturf ’15 nearly scored on a free kick that ricocheted between the goalie and the cross bar before the goalie scooped it up.
It was the Bombers who broke through for the score, after a Bombers’ forward got around the the exceptional Eph defense and slotted the ball past Van Wetter in the 76th minute. Williams looked to bring the gap back to four, and nearly succeeded as Alison Magruder ’15 beat two defenders around the corner of the box with seven minutes to go. Magruder, who was selected for second-team All-NESCAC honors, tapped a shot on goal, but was unable to avoid the Bombers’ goalie.
In the 85th minute, the crowd roared as the Ephs made a substitution to give Tomozawa, inactive since early October with an ACL injury, a chance to finish the game at midfield. Tomozawa helped on a sequence to give Maddie Swarr ’17 a chance right before time expired, but Swarr’s shot went wide.
Williams will now face off against Roger Williams on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Cole Field. The winner will then face either No. 12 TCNJ or No. 11 Misericordia at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“Overall, it was a phenomenal team win, and we are so excited to have another week to play and one more game on Cole Field,” Wellenbach said.