GENEVA, N.Y. -- Down 2-0 to host William Smith at halftime Sunday with a bid to the NCAA Div. III national semifinals on the line, the Williams College women's soccer team remained defiant -- a term that would accurately describe the Ephs' run through the tourney up until today.
Two goals didn't seem like too many, not when you've lost your home field for the season, not when you've lost five players to season-ending injuries, and not even when two of your three senior tri-captains had yet to take the field.
"We definitely felt like we still had a chance," senior tri-captain Nicole Stenquist said. "We knew 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer, and we felt if we could get the next goal, anything could happen. Coach (Michelyne Pinard) kept telling us, 'we can take this game back one goal at a time."
Unfortunately for the Ephs, that goal never came, and the No. 2-ranked Herons added two more late scores to pull away from Williams, 4-0, and end the Ephs' season at Couzzens Field for the second straight season.
Williams finished its season at 13-5-3, while Williams Smith improved to 20-0-1 and moved onto the national semifinals to take on Messiah in San Antonio, Texas.
"Watching this team -- literally to the last minute -- compete, fight and battle today ... as a coach I could not ask for more or be more proud of them," Pinard said. "William Smith is the best team we've seen all year. They certainly belong in Texas."
The Ephs didn't come out looking like their tank was empty, not even following the thrilling double-overtime win over Emory on Saturday, but with seniors Sachi Siegelman and Brett Eisenhart out of the starting line-up with injuries, it looked like an uphill battle.
That hill got a little steeper 14:24 into the contest when, following a giveaway at midfield, Heron forward Whitney Frary slotted a through ball to the top of the box that first-year forward Dineo Mmutla ran onto and slid a shot past Eph keeper Laura Wann into the net on the near left post.
"Them going up 1-0 early was a heartbreaker of sorts," Pinard said. "We knew they would attack out of the midfield, they are very dynamic there."
Just 2 minutes, 52 seconds later, it was 2-0. The Herons had a corner kick from the right that Wann punched away, but the ball went right to Mmutla at the top of the 18, and she volleyed it out of the air, over Wann's leap backward and into the net.
From there, it was hard for the Ephs to generate much offense. The Herons continued to attack and pressure the Ephs' defense, nearly getting a goal from Frary and then a third from Dmmutla, both whose shots from close range went just over the crossbar.
"They have a lot of dangerous players," Pinard said. "They are unique in that they are dangerous from a lot of different spaces -- in the box, out wide, on crosses. Add to that they are solid defensively and very well-coached and you could see our challenge."
Williams was outshot 7-1 in the first half and 14-4 for the game. The Herons had a 5-2 advantage in cornerkicks. Still, with 25:38 left in the contest, it was still 2-0 when Pinard put Eisenhart and Siegelman into the contest.
The move did not pan out as the Herons added a goal just 65 seconds later off another corner kick opportunity. Olivia Zitoli pooched a shot off the corssbar, and Sarah Tarantino quickly headed the rebound into the goal for a 3-0 lead. A goal by Frary with 3:43 sealed the Ephs' fate.
The loss ended the careers of Eisenhart, Siegelman and Stenquist. The trio helped the Ephs win three NESCAC titles and four NCAA appearances, including one trip to the national semifinals and two Elite 8 appearances.
"I couldn't believe the effort Sachi and Brett gave today," Pinard said. "They probably should not have been out on the field, but they gave it all they had. And Nicole, she just sets the standard for the whole program with her work ethic. All three of them combined inspire us more than they could ever know."
Stenquist said that after all the Ephs went through this season, another Elite 8 appearance was a surprise.
"I don't think we could have asked for anything more -- obviously we wanted to win a national championship -- but it's amazing to be here again after all we went through. I think the big thing for us was the 10 freshman. Their excitement and the novelty of this whole opportunity for them fueled all of us. I know the three of us (seniors) could not have asked for anything more."
Wann finished with five saves for Williams. Amanda Davis had two for the Herons.