WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — After a disappointing round of 16 exit in the NCAA Tournament to end what was an impressive 2013 season, the Eph women's soccer team came into the 2014 season with a hunger to be stronger. Having only lost three players to graduation and returning a plethora of talent at all positions, with the likes of senior shot-stopper Hannah Van Wetter, seniors Alison Magruder and Lilly Wellenbach to anchor the strong Eph back line, the duo of sophomore strikers Audrey Thomas and Kristi Kirshe to tally the goals, and the junior midfield maestro Mai Mitsuyama to orchestrate it all.
The Saturday morning affair with the Colby Mules at Cole Field was the opening game for both teams, and the Ephs showed good quality for their 2-0 win, taking the lead just after the six-minute mark through Thomas, before Kirshe gave the Ephs a two-goal cushion at the outset of the second half in the 52nd minute.
The game started off at a fast clip as one of the first chances of the game saw the Ephs take a 1-0 lead. Sophomore Maddie Swarr found herself with time on the ball as she raced down the right wing before she centered to Thomas at the top-right side of the Mules' penalty area. All Thomas needed was one touch then a strike that ricocheted in off the left post to rocket the Ephs into the lead.
The Mules responded well after conceding, and they were able to create some chances, culminating in the sixteenth minute with a beautiful chipped pass into the box from senior Cami Notaro, looking for fellow senior Ruthie Hawley, who settled the ball well, but wasn't quite able to steer her shot on target to test Van Wetter.
In the 25th minute, the Mules created their best chance of the half, as senior Janie O'Halloran took a short corner on the right hand side to Hawley, who sent the ball into the scrum in the center of the box. The ball rattled around, before falling kindly outside the box to O'Halloran whose driven strike skimmed the top of the bar, as it went out of play.
The institution of subs at the 26th minute marked injected a lot pace into the Williams attack as freshman Dani Sim looked very impressive. She found herself one-on-one with the keeper after a nice through ball from Mitsuyama, but senior Mule Emilly Brook made one of her twelve impressive saves to deny the Ephs a second goal.
The Mules weathered the storm of the Ephs' attack late in the second half to keep the deficit at just one goal going into halftime, mostly on the back of an outstanding performance between the sticks for Brook.
The Ephs came out firing on all cylinders, however, after halftime, creating a multitude of chances in the opening minutes.
Under two minutes into the second half, Thomas almost notched her second of the game after Mitsuyama played a nice ball to Kirshe out on the right wing, who sent a cross towards the far post that Thomas latched her head onto, but her looping header sailed just right of the post.
More heroics from Brook were required just moments later as Mitsuyama threaded a perfect through-ball to meet Kirshe knifing through Colby's back line, putting Kirshe one-on-one with Brook, but Brook closed down the angle and made herself big to save Kirshe's effort.
Several minutes and a few chances later, and Kirshe finally found the back of the net, as Mitsuyama took her own chance at goal with a screamer from 25 yards out. Brook made yet another remarkable save, but could only push the ball onto the crossbar, not out of danger, allowing for the opportunistic Kirshe to pounce on the rebound, kneeing the ball into the back of the net to give the Ephs the two-goal advantage.
It was mere minutes before Brook's goalmouth saw more action, as it was Thomas' turn to be one-on-one with the keeper, but Brook once again found a way to tip the curled effort away from danger and out of play.
The Mules were forced deeper and deeper into their own half as the pressure from the Ephs' attack continued to mount with the likes of Sim, freshman Hannah Kaeser, and senior Hana Tomozawa linking the midfield with the Eph attack.
The Mules had one good chance to get on the scoreboard near the end of the second half, however, in the 84th minute, as senior Maddie Tight broke free of the Ephs' high pressure to race down the left flank. She showed good skill on the ball, but her pass across the face of the goal could not find any fellow Mules to put away the chance.
The Ephs saw out the final five minutes of the game with relative comfort to record their first win of the season and Van Wetter's first clean sheet.
After the game, Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard commented on the Ephs' good start to the season: "The first game of the season is always difficult to find your rhythm, so I was very pleased with our ability to keep the ball and not panic. Colby is a good, organized team, so keeping possession was not a given. I think as we go I hope we can keep possession like today, but also make better, quicker decisions on the ball. I think our efficiency in front of goal is something we can work on, but their keeper played really well. We are a week and a half into the season, and it can only get better from here."
With the win, the Ephs open their season with a win (1-0, NESCAC 1-0), while the Mules fall to defeat in their first game (0-1, NESCAC 0-1).
The Ephs return to action tomorrow on Sunday to face off against Wheaton College. Kickoff is set for 12 PM EDT.