WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.—Following a tense, cagey first half, the No. 16 Williams women's lacrosse team notched a season-high 10 second half goals en route to a 13-8 victory over Little Three rival Wesleyan (4-9, 0-8 NESCAC). The win was the Ephs' straight over the Cardinals, who have not won in Williamstown since 1982.
More germanely, the Ephs (6-5, 3-5 NESCAC) snapped a three-game losing streak and took a critical step forward in the hunt for a NESCAC playoff spot. Thanks to tiebreaking scenarios, the Ephs will clinch a playoff berth with either a win in one of their final two conference games or a loss by Connecticut College, which faces No. 7 Bowdoin tomorrow afternoon.
Though the Ephs controlled play for much of the first half and took eight of the game's first nine shots, they were consistently stymied by the sparkling play of Nina Labovich in goal for Wesleyan. Coming off a season-high 14 saves in a loss to top-ranked Trinity, Labovich kept the game scoreless for nearly 15 minutes before Natalie Gill buried a close-range shot for the Ephs to break the stalemate at 14:47 of the half.
Gill's goal appeared to spark the Cardinals, however, as they rallied to tie the game and then took the lead on the first goal of co-captain Katie Binswanger's collegiate career, off a shot that careened between the legs of Eph keeper Margaret Draper.
After the teams traded goals, the Ephs pulled even with 28.6 seconds left in the half off an impressive solo effort from Bridget Malicki. Draper then kept the game tied just before the buzzer with a point-blank save on Wesleyan's Becca Phillips. "Wesleyan's always a really tough competitor," said Williams coach Chris Mason on the game's tight first half. "They've always been hard-working and it often takes a while to chip away at them and hang with them."
From the start of the second half, it became readily apparent that the Ephs were no longer just chipping away. Despite needing 30 minutes to score their first three goals, the Ephs got their next three in the first 1:36 of the second half, as a goal from Gill off the rush, a sidearm shot from Maeve Mulholland and a free position shot from Mulholland gave them a sudden advantage.
The Cardinals were hardly out of it, though, as both teams emerged from their possession-oriented first half performances and began to push the attack. A rocket over Draper's right shoulder from Meredith Smith just 22 seconds after Mulholland's second goal got the Cardinals on the board in the half, then Phillips scored off a feed from behind the net to bring them within one.
Though Gill got her third off a free position shot to restore the Eph advantage to two, the goals were coming thick and fast now, and the Cardinals soon tied it at 7 off a free position shot from Julia Black.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Ephs were just getting started offensively. Another three-goal spurt, bookended by a pair of pretty passes from Mulholland behind the net to a cycling Nancy Palmer in front for quality finishes, restored the Eph lead to three at 10-7. Though Rachel Aronow pulled one back for the Cardinals, the Ephs continued to buzz offensively, rifling two shots off the crossbar and several more into the equipment of Labovich, and were rewarded for their efforts with late goals from Bell, Hilary Cook and first-year Kat Fearey, who iced the game with a goal on her first collegiate shot. "We finally got some good looks at goal on fast breaks, " said Mason on the Ephs' second half outburst. "Our players were really doing a good job of being in the right passing lanes and getting feeds in on time and on target."
The comfortable final margin of victory was a welcome one for the Ephs, who have played six one-goal games this season, four of which have come in NESCAC matches. Occasionally, that has made things difficult for Coach Mason to evaluate. "When you lose a one-goal game, you feel like everything's wrong and you want to scrap it all, but you have to realize that some things were good, " said Mason, whose Ephs are 4-2 in such contests this year. "And when you win a one-goal game, you're like, everything's great, nothing needs to be fixed. But you have to be careful not to fall into that either."
Up next for the Ephs is their final non-conference game of the year, a Thursday afternoon bout against Western New England. The Cardinals have a week off before hosting Bowdoin next Saturday.