Women’s soccer takes NESCAC Championship

The women earned their first NESCAC title since 2012, their sixth conference championship win in the past decade, on Sunday. Photo Courtesy of Sports Information
The women earned their first NESCAC title since 2012, their sixth conference championship win in the past decade, on Sunday. Photo Courtesy of Sports Information

Women’s soccer (16-1-1, 9-1 in the NESCAC) defeated Bowdoin 2-0 in the NESCAC Championship on Sunday after dispatching Middlebury 2-1 on Saturday, clinching an automatic bid to the NCAA Div. III Tournament.

On Saturday against Middlebury, before five minutes had even expired, Kristi Kirshe ’17 notched her 11th goal of the season, drawing herself level with the NESCAC-leading and team-leading scorer, Audrey Thomas ’17. Jacqueline Simeone ’18 sent in a corner from the right side to the back post, and Kirshe was on hand to boom a header past Panther keeper Kate Reinmuth and into the roof of the net.

Just over two minutes later, co-captain Mai Mitsuyama ’16 doubled the Ephs’ advantage with a perfectly placed penalty, after Kristina Alvarado ’19 was taken down from behind in the penalty area.

Finding themselves on the ropes early, the Panthers needed to rebound quickly as they searched for a way back into the game, which they almost found in the 18th minute. A beautiful flowing exchange of passes between the Middlebury attackers eventually saw Hannah Robinson find Katherine Hobbs just outside the top of the penalty area, but the Panther couldn’t keep her shot down, firing it well over the bar.

Kirshe almost managed to put the game to bed for the Ephs just before the half-hour mark, as she got off a nasty dipping effort toward Reinmuth’s goal, but luckily for the junior keeper, Kirshe’s effort went over the goal, skimming the top of the net on its way over.

Three minutes later, the Panthers were right back in the contest, after Gildner fired a 20-yard effort into the top corner from a tight angle on the right side and past Eph keeper, Tressa Palcheck ’18. The game went to halftime with the Ephs up 2-1.

Five minutes after the halftime restart, Alvarado almost restored the Ephs’ two-goal lead, as Kirshe carved apart the Panther back-line with a through ball for Alvarado to run onto, but the first-year couldn’t steer her shot on target to test Reinmuth.

Eight minutes later, Reinmuth was called into action to deny Alvarado another opportunity to bag a goal of her own. A tidy series of passes between Kirshe and Crystal Lewin ’16  eventually ended up at the feet of Alvarado, but Reinmuth came up with a crucial save to keep the Panthers’ deficit at just the one goal.

As the final 10 minutes of the game approached, the Panthers began to bear down on the Eph penalty area, creating several opportunities that almost became equalizers. Palcheck was a stalwart in goal, maintaining her team’s one-goal margin with several spectacular saves, including a fully stretched, one-handed diving save. Her performance in this game and Sunday’s Championship earned her NESCAC player of the week.

Buoyed by Palcheck’s game-changing save, the Ephs held off all other late surges by the Panthers to book their place in Sunday’s NESCAC Championship game, with a 2-1 victory.

On Sunday, the women took to the field for the NESCAC Championship game, their ninth consecutive appearance in the conference title game, looking to redeem themsleves after their heart-breaking loss to Conn. College last fall.

The opening goal that would eventually prove to be the game-winner came just over eight minutes after halftime, and the eruption that ensued from the fans watching on the sidelines told the whole story. Evan Gancedo ’18 found Natalie Turner-Wyatt ’19 just outside the left side of the Polar Bear penalty area. Turner-Wyatt took one touch to settle the ball and another to hit a curling shot into the top corner past the Bowdoin goalie.

Five minutes after the opener, Kirshe lured several defenders toward her with an imperious run through the midfield, before slipping Alvarado clean through on goal, but the Bowdoin keeper came up with a crucial save to keep the margin at just the one goal.

Alvarado had another opportunity 10 minutes later, after Lewin chased down a long ball over the top from Madison Feeney ’19 to square nicely for Alvarado, but the striker couldn’t keep her first-time shot down, putting it just over Bowdoin’s crossbar.

Just over two minutes before the full-time whistle, the Polar Bears’ determination to find an equalizer left them too open at the back, and the combination of Feeney and Kirshe hit them on the counter, as the first-year played the junior clean through on goal, which led to Kirshe’s cool finish into the bottom corner, putting the Ephs up 2-0.

The Ephs’ second-half dominance was not as pronounced in the first 45 minutes, as the Polar Bears were actually the ones who had the lion’s share of chances early on. The Polar Bears won a free kick just five minutes after kickoff that saw Taylor Haist float a beautifully weighted ball into the box that Julia Patterson redirected on target with her head, but Palcheck’s reactions were timely enough to deny Bowdoin an early lead.

The Polar Bears had an even better chance to open the scoring six minutes later. The ball almost went under the flailing arms of Palcheck, but Danielle Sim ’18 was on the cover to clear the ball off the line and keep the game scoreless.

Two minutes later, the Ephs almost capitalized on Sim’s goal-line clearance, as Hanna Kaeser ’18 played a teasing low cross toward the near post that Alvarado managed to get on the end of, but she blasted her shot just wide of the mark. Mitsuyama, fresh off her first career goal in Saturday’s semifinal clash with Middlebury, almost notched her second career goal in the 20th minute, when she connected squarely with Kirshe’s lay off to her, but her rifled effort also went just wide of Bowdoin’s right post.

With the game justifiably level at halftime, the second half completely changed the trajectory of the game, as Turner-Wyatt’s goal sent the Ephs on their way to their seventh NESCAC Championship in team history.

“The whole weekend was just an incredible team experience,” co-captain Zoe Trutner ’16 said. “Starting with an opportunity to beat the only team we’ve lost to, and ending as NESCAC champs in regulation time (which was a first for everyone on our team), I couldn’t have asked for more. Every single player brought their best game and their energy, and it was awesome to feel that and to be a part of it.”

As the winners of the 2015 NESCAC Championship, the women clinched a spot in the NCAA Div. III Tournament that starts this weekend. The women will host Westfield State, St. Lawrence and The College of New Jersey this weekend in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Div. III Tournament. The women take on Westfield State on Saturday at 11 a.m.

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