No. 4 women’s soccer defeats Amherst, Tufts to claim NESCAC title

It took two second-half comebacks and a sudden-death overtime in the championship game, but No. 4 women’s soccer (16–1–1, 8–1–1 in the NESCAC) captured its eighth NESCAC championship last weekend. On Cole Field, the women defeated Amherst 4-2 on Saturday and Tufts 2-1 on Sunday.

When the Ephs and Mammoths met on Sept. 23, the Ephs came away with a 3-2 victory. No. 1 Williams defeated No. 8 seed Bowdoin on Oct. 28 in the first round of the tournament while No. 7 seed Amherst upset No. 2 seed Connecticut College to advance to the semifinal.

On Saturday, the Ephs had an early chance in the seventh minute. On the counterattack, midfielder Natalie Turner-Wyatt ’19 played a ball to forward Alison Lu ’20, who was making a run into the penalty area. From inside the box, Lu rattled a shot off the right goal post.

In the 23rd minute, Lu snuck a shot past the keeper, but Amherst defender Caleigh Plout cleared the ball before the goal line. After the ball was sent back in, Natasha Albaneze ’18 put a shot on goal, but Mammoth goalkeeper Chelsea Cutler made the save.

Forward Sydney Jones ’21 created a scoring opportunity in the 32nd minute. Jones beat several defenders on a run down the right side, and she sent a ball across the box. Kristina Alvarado ’19 got a foot on the ball and nearly put the Ephs ahead, but her shot was wide of the post.

In the latter part of the half, tight pressing from Amherst limited Williams’ attacking chances. The Mammoths began to push forward, and midfielder Sasha Savitsky gave the visitors a 1-0 lead before halftime. In the 36th minute, Savitsky intercepted a pass in the midfield and dribbled toward the right edge of the box, evading several defenders. She drilled a shot into the bottom-left corner, just out of the reach of a diving Olivia Barnhill ’19.

Williams had a 10-3 lead in shots at halftime, but Cutler made three saves to keep the Ephs off the board.

The home side returned from the break with renewed vigor and began to take control of the possession game. The Ephs earned three corner kicks in the first two minutes, and they equalized just 1:52 into the half. After a corner kick from Albaneze led to a scrum in the box, Sarah Scire ’20 broke through the pack and poked the ball into the net.

In the 52nd minute, Lu put the Ephs ahead 2-1. Albaneze sent a pass forward, and Lu beat a defender to the ball at the right edge of the box. After a touch, she slotted a shot past Cutler and inside the far post.

Savitsky, however, scored for the Mammoths three minutes later to tie the contest once again. After receiving a pass 15 yards outside of the box, she dribbled in and curled a gorgeous shot into the top-left corner of the net.

The game moved out of the midfield and into the attacking thirds as each side began to play longer passes, looking to run onto the ball in the opposing team’s territory.

Midfielder Meredith Manley had a chance for Amherst in the 70th minute. Manley teed up a shot from distance but sent the ball narrowly over the crossbar.

The Ephs earned a 3-2 lead in the 71st minute. Ilana Albert ’21 sent a cross into the box, which found its way to Jones. She played a spectacular back-heel pass to Alvarado, who finished to the near post from the left side of the box.

Jones added a goal of her own 10 minutes later, putting Williams up 4-2. After a pass from Turner-Wyatt, an Amherst defender slipped and Jones converted in the bottom-left corner.

The score remained 4-2 in the Ephs’ favor until the final whistle. Williams finished with an 18-7 shot advantage. Cutler had five saves in the game for the Mammoths while Barnhill had two for the Ephs.

“We had an incredible second half as the result of us just playing,” head coach Michelyne Pinard said. “We made some adjustments over the week, and through those adjustments, we started to think a little bit. Any time you think too much, the game slows down, which is what happened in the first half. … We’re at our best when we limit the thinking and just play.”

She added that better use of flank space led to the second-half attacking success.

“[Amherst was] giving us some space on the flanks, and we needed to find that a little more quickly,” she said. “When we did, we were able to get in behind. [The Mammoths] are a really athletic and hardworking team, so when they’re pressing, it’s hard to feel like you have any options. As soon as we found that flank space, we started to break them down a little bit in the second half.”

On Sunday, the women defeated Tufts 2-1 in overtime to secure the NESCAC championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

No. 4 seed Tufts was down 2-1 at halftime versus No. 6 seed Hamilton the day before, but the Jumbos rebounded to win 3-2 to reach the finals.

The first half saw relatively few chances as play was concentrated in the midfield. An athletic Tufts side pressed tightly and limited Williams’ attacking progress.

The Jumbos played long passes to forwards Sophie Lloyd and Liz Reed, seeking to have attackers run onto the ball in Eph territory. The Williams back line made several key tackles, however, and tracked back to prevent chips from leading to chances inside the 18-yard box.

Albaneze had the best opportunity of the period in the 13th minute, when she found space to shoot just beyond the left edge of the penalty area. Her curling effort bounced high off the left goal post and over the end line.

In the 21st minute, Reed put a hard shot on goal for Tufts, but Barnhill made the save. Lloyd made a long run into the box in the 27th minute and set up midfielder Sarah Grubman with a chance. Grubman’s shot sailed over the crossbar, however.

Williams pushed forward toward the end of the period, and midfielder Victoria Laino ’21 found herself with two shooting opportunities at the edge of the box, but both of her attempts were narrowly off-target.

The game remained scoreless at halftime, and the Ephs held a 4-3 edge in shots.

In the 56th minute, a long-distance effort from tri-captain Jacqueline Simeone ’18 nearly snuck inside the near post, but Tufts goalkeeper Emily Bowers got a hand on the shot.

The Jumbos found a breakthrough in the 59th minute. Lloyd received the ball in space on a counterattack, and she played a pass forward for junior Alessandra Sadler. Sadler took a touch and chipped a shot past the keeper into the net, putting Tufts up 1-0.

Minutes later, forward Jones created a promising opportunity for Williams. Jones ran down the right side and picked out midfielder Aspen Pierson ’21, who was unmarked near the penalty spot. Tufts defender Taylor Koscho slid across to block Pierson’s shot.

Williams equalized in the 81st minute. A crowd of players fought for the ball in the Jumbos’ penalty area, and the ball fell to Eph midfielder Turner-Wyatt. Bowers saved her shot, but the ball bounced out to Laino, who quickly sent it back in. Turner-Wyatt broke free on the left side of the box, and she slipped the second attempt inside the near post to tie the score at one.

Having gained momentum from the equalizer, the Ephs pushed forward in the final minutes of regulation. In the 82nd minute, Bowers was forced off her line to make a clearance. The ball fell to Albaneze, who had an open look, but Bowers came lunging across the box to keep the shot out.

Despite the increased intensity at the end of the half, the score remained 1-1 after 90 minutes. Williams had an 11-4 edge in shots in the second half.

The game went into sudden-death overtime, meaning the first team to score would win the game and lift the trophy. Tufts had an opportunity less than three minutes into extra time, when Grubman found space to shoot near the edge of the box. Her attempt, however, carried over the bar.

Lu notched the deciding goal for the Ephs 4:30 into extra time. Albaneze made a run into the box and played a through ball to Lu, who calmly put her shot past the keeper and into the net as Williams prevailed 2-1, claiming its seventh conference championship in the last 11 years.

The Ephs finished with a 17-8 advantage in shots. Bowers made eight saves for Tufts while Barnhill recorded two for Williams.

“Any time you can win championships, it’s a lot of fun,” Pinard said. “This team believes in itself, and to have everything come together … feels really good.”

For the second consecutive game, Williams produced a second-half comeback victory, an accomplishment that Pinard attributed to the team’s determination.

“The toughness and resilience of this team complements everything we’re doing,” she said. “I think [the players] believe so much in what they’re doing and each other, and that shows in games like these.”

Pinard added that Tufts’ discipline and organization limited Williams’ attacking success early on and that winning the battle in the midfield was key to finding an offensive breakthrough.

“Tufts is one of the most organized teams out there,” Pinard said. “[The Jumbos] had numbers behind the ball and put pressure on the ball, which is not easy to do. We didn’t get behind them too much, so the efficiency we had when we did get in behind was important.

“As soon as we broke their midfield pressure, I thought we could create something,” she said in regards to Lu’s goal. “Lu is just a finisher. She’s a goal scorer, and once she saw the goalkeeper make a decision, she put it away.”

As conference champions, the Ephs secured an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. They will host the first and second rounds of competition this weekend and will face Lesley, the New England Collegiate Conference champion, on Saturday at 11 a.m.