AMHERST, MA – The Williams women's soccer team lost a heartbreaker to Amherst in the NESCAC championship today. The Jeffs (17-0-0, 10-0-0 NESCAC) scored two goals in the final 7:29 to come from behind and beat the Ephs (10-4-3, 7-2-1 NESCAC) 2-1. After the Ephs went up early behind a beautiful header by Lilly Wellenbach, the Jeffs were saved by Kathryn Nathan's rocket of a shot in the 83rd minute and a header by Sandy Shepherd just under three minutes later.
The Ephs' best opportunities came off of free kicks. With 33 minutes to play, Wellenbach fired a ball into the box. Hayley Cook was able to get a nice look at the net, but her attempt went high. Just under twenty minutes later, Sachi Siegelman had a free kick into the box as well, but Lord Jeff goalie Allie Horwitz was able to just beat Nicole Stenquist to the ball.
The Ephs continued to fight, though, and they finally succeeded with a beauty of a goal in the 38th minute. Stenquist passed from the center of the midfield to Carla Nicasio on the left flank. Nicasio took one move to beat her defender and carried up the left side of the field. She floated a perfect ball into the center of the box, where Wellenbach was able to get up above the crowd and head it into the net. The goal was her fourth of the year.
Although the Lord Jeffs had some attacking opportunities, the Ephs were able to hold them for the final seven minutes. One particularly dangerous possession came four minutes after the goal, when Mel Stier fired at the net from the left side. Keeper Laura Wann made a fantastic diving save to stop the initial attempt. When Stier gathered the rebound and took another shot, Kristine Nakada made a stellar defensive play to head the ball out of the open net and keep the Ephs up 1-0.
With the Ephs leading coming out of the break, the Lord Jeffs were gunning for a goal. They played aggressively on the offensive end, but the Ephs' defense kept them at bay for much of the half. Chelsea Davies, Nakada, Siegelman, Wellenbach and Nicasio were particularly strong on the defensive side of the field. Wann also had one of her strongest showings of the year and recorded eight saves on the day.
Amherst continued to push, though, and it proved too much for the Ephs. After a mistake in the midfield caused an Eph turnover, the Jeffs carried up field. After the Ephs slide tackled the ball away from Stier, Nathan possessed and struck a perfect shot from the left corner of the box into the top right corner of the goal.
With the momentum on their side, the Jeffs forced a corner with just under five minutes to play. Nathan lined up from the right side and fired into the box. Shepherd came around the back of the defenders and headed the ball into the net to secure the win.
After the game, Coach Michelyne Pinard commented on her team's play: "The overall effort and energy this team exerted today was just phenomenal. I'm so proud of them. I just couldn't ask for anything more."
Today's game was much different from the rivals' earlier matchup, which the Jeffs won 3-0. Said Coach Pinard about how far her team has come, "I think we were a pretty young team early on. I think we've learned and grown quite a bit in the last month. Our young kids are playing with sophomore-like confidence and everybody else is just free to compete. We just have 23 competitors on this team, and it showed today."
The Ephs' three seniors – Brett Eisenhart, Siegelman, and Stenquist – have been a large part of the NESCAC success over their four-year careers. Said Coach Pinard after their final NESCAC game, "They have just been phenomenal. They've been phenomenal leaders. They've been phenomenal players. Mostly, [what I have to say to them] is just thank-you. I want to thank them for everything they've given."
With the win, Amherst is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Ephs will wait to hear if they get an at-large bid. Tournament seeds will be announced tomorrow.
Said Coach Pinard looking towards the tournament, "I think we are a bubble team. I think we have a good chance at getting an at-large." She added, "This team is committed; they're focused. They just want to keep playing."