Women’s soccer (18-1-1, 9-1 in the NESCAC) began its quest for the Div. III National Championship on Saturday morning, as it took on Westfield State in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Div. III Tournament. After a season-ending injury nine games into last season, Natasha Albaneze ’18 took the field for the first time in postseason play and turned in a match-winning performance, notching the game-winning goal and an assist, leading the Ephs to a 3-0 win over the Owls last Saturday. On Sunday, the women triumphed 3-0 over The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), sending them back to the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row.
On Saturday, the Ephs’ dominant attacking display started in the thirteenth minute when Hanna Kaeser ’18 sent in a cross from the right wing that found the feet of Natalie Turner-Wyatt ’19 at the far post. However, her low screamer ricocheted off the inside of the right post and somehow managed to dodge the line, allowing an Owl defender to clear the danger.
Kristina Alvarado ’19 had an even better opportunity eight minutes later after Kaeser once again orchestrated a chance. Kaeser left her defender on the floor before she slid a ball toward Alvarado in front of goal, but Owl keeper, Anne Stack, made a crucial reaction save, one of her twelve of the first half, to temporarily deny the Ephs their lead.
Just before the half-hour mark, Katie Wardlaw ’17 barely missed out on opening the scoring after co-captain Mai Mitsuyama ’16 picked her out at the top of the Owl penalty area, only to fire her shot just over Stack’s crossbar.
The breakthrough finally came in the 37th minute, as Albaneze tallied her second goal since returning from injury last year. Abby Morss ’16 picked out the sophomore about twelve yards out from goal, and Albaneze volleyed it sweetly into the Owls’ top corner past Stack.
Four minutes later, the Ephs doubled their lead, as Albaneze once again carved apart the Owl defense to match the darting run of Crystal Lewin ’16. With just the keeper to beat, Lewin made no mistake slotting the ball past Stack to give the Ephs a 2-0 lead going into the halftime break.
The Ephs finally got their third goal in the 76th minute under the strangest of circumstances. Madison Feeney ’19 whipped a corner into the box toward Lindsey Vandergrift ’16, whose header initially appeared to have been blocked. However, the assistant referee called that the goalie had stopped the ball behind the goal line, earning Vandergrift her first goal of the season.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, the Owls attempted to earn a consolation goal, but the Ephs’ defense remained resolute, not allowing Westfield a half-chance at the goal of phenom keeper Tressa Palcheck ’17.
On Sunday, the women again took to Cole Field to face off against TCNJ, emerging from the competition with a 3-0 victory.
Evan Gancedo ’18 started and finished off the first goal for the Ephs, taking the ball right off the foot of a Lion midfielder before feeding Morss through on the right side of the penalty area. With the chance to have a shot herself, the senior striker decided to unselfishly return the ball to Gancedo, who fortunately buried her shot in the bottom corner past keeper Jessica Reeder.
With the Lions down 1-0 to the Ephs, they toiled without reward for the rest of the first half, as they desperately sought an equalizer.
Eight minutes after the halftime break, Kaeser fortuitously had an attempted clearance fall to her, giving her a chance to strike at goal, but Weeder gathered the shot comfortably enough. Weeder was not so lucky five minutes later, when the Ephs were awarded a penalty, as Alvarado was brought down from behind in the box. Mitsuyama stepped up and expertly placed the ball past Weeder to double the Ephs’ lead, and dim the Lions’ hopes of revenge.
The Ephs had two chances in quick succession to stretch their lead to three just after the hour mark, but neither opportunity came to fruition. First, the Ephs’ leading scorer, Kristi Kirshe ’17 attempted to pick out Alvarado. She knifed through the Lion backline, but Weeder was off her line quickly to beat the first year to the ball. Moments later, it was Kirshe herself who had the opportunity to add her name to the scoresheet, as she rifled an effort toward the top corner from 22 yards out. An outstretched reach from Weeder saved the goal.
Weeder’s spectacular save only denied the Ephs a third goal momentarily, however, as Lewin bagged her second goal of the weekend in the 70th minute. Albaneze received the ball in the midfield, holding off a defender and breaking free to carve apart the Lion defense and match the run of Lewin, who collected the through ball and slotted her shot under the left arm of Weeder to put the Ephs out of reach at 3-0.
Five minutes after conceding the third goal, the Lions almost managed a goal of their own, as they won a free kick just outside the Eph penalty area on the right side. Jessica Goldman delivered the ball to the near post, looking for the head of a Lion attacker, but the ball was headed away.
The Ephs’ final chance to add a fourth went begging in the 83rd minute, as once again Feeney orchestrated a chance, finding Alvarado just outside the Lion penalty area, who one-touched a pass to Kirshe for her to cleverly spin her defender and fire a shot that only just found the wrong side of Weeder’s crossbar.
The Ephs’ defense was again airtight throughout the entirety of the affair, with Palcheck and her backline recording their third consecutive clean sheet during the postseason.
With the win, the women progress to the Sweet 16 for the third-straight season. They will face off against Stevens in the next round of the tournament. The game will be at Hobart and Williams Smith in Geneva, N.Y., at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.