WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — It was a record-breaking day for Eph sophomore Kristi Kirshe, as she scored her 15th, 16th, and 17th goals of the season, bagging her first ever hat trick in a Williams jersey and breaking the Ephs' single-season goal-scoring record previously set by Gabrielle Woodson in 2008 with 15 goals. Kirshe's hat trick, combined with fellow Eph sophomore Audrey Thomas' 13th goal of the season secured the 4-1 victory for the Ephs over the Bombers of Ithaca College, claiming their spot in next weekends Sweet 16.
"We knew that their attackers just played so well together. Today, Williams was just a better team than we were. They played better; they played stronger. I don't think fatigue was the issue because they were just more skilled," were the words of Bomber head coach Mindy Quigg after the game.
And she wasn't wrong. The Ephs attack took little time to warm up on another bitterly cold November afternoon, as the Ephs notched two goals in two minutes yet again on Sunday, with the second coming just after the nine-minute mark.
The Ephs' first chance of the game fell to Thomas in the seventh minute, as Eph senior Alison Magruder stole a ball off a loose touch from a Bomber defender, raced down the left flank, and sent in a well-placed cross in the direction of the far post. Thomas received the cross on the right side of the penalty area, but could not direct her shot away from the onrushing junior keeper Beth Coppolecchia, firing her shot straight into her chest.
Moments later, Thomas would not make the same mistake again, as she made good on her second look at opening the scoring. Eph junior Crystal Lewin raced down the right flank, before cutting inside and tapping a through ball to Thomas, knifing through the right side of the Bomber defense. Thomas collected and slotted the ball into the back of the net, perfectly placing the ball under Coppolecchia's right arm.
Less than two minutes later, Thomas turned provider on the Ephs' second goal of the game. It was Thomas' turn to jet down the right wing. Thomas then cut inside toward the penalty area and carved out a beautiful through ball for Kirshe as she made a run through the Bomber back line. Kirshe ran onto the pass, took a touch, and blasted the ball into the top-left corner of the net, leaving Coppolecchia with little chance to stop her record-tying 15th goal of the season.
After the quick pair of goals, the Bombers managed to settle into the game, engineering their first chance in the 21st minute. Bomber freshman Kristyn Alonzo possessed the ball in the center of the field and made a run at the Eph back line, before laying the ball off to sophomore Holly Niemiec, but her shot was rather tame, not really challenging Eph senior keeper Hannah Van Wetter in net.
Three minutes later, Kirshe had her first chance to break Woodson's record, as Lewin and Thomas once again proved integral in the buildup to the chance. Lewin made one of her trademark runs down the right touchline, before sending a cross toward Thomas at the top of the box. Thomas took the ball out of midair, flicking it into the path of Kirshe, but Coppolecchia managed a huge save at full stretch to deny Kirshe her second of the game.
In the 30th minute, the Bombers had another chance to cut their deficit in half, when they won a free kick on the edge of the Eph penalty area, only twenty yards from Van Wetter's goal. Alonzo lined up over the free kick, but her low, driven effort was always going wide of the left post.
In the dying seconds of the first half, the Bombers' leading scorer, junior Kelsey King, had her first good luck of the game, as she ran down a long ball from the midfield, outpacing her defender, but her touch as she rounded Van Wetter was slightly too heavy, allowing the Ephs to recover and eventually clear the ball, ensuring their two-goal lead at halftime.
The story of the second half was startlingly similar to the first, as the Ephs managed to notch two goals very early, both from Kirshe, as she broke Woodson's record and then added another for good measure.
Kirshe's second goal came inside of two minutes into the second half. She received a ball from Magruder on the left, just outside the Bomber penalty area, but as the defenders laid off of her in anticipation of one of her barreling runs, Kirshe pulled up to strike a gorgeous, dipping effort toward Coppolecchia's goal, that snuck in just under the crossbar and just over Coppolecchia's outstretched arms, nestling in the top-right corner.
Kirshe would then go on to complete her hat trick, tallying her fifth goal of the weekend four minutes later, as Lewin also grabbed her second assist of the game. Yet again, Lewin worked her way down the right side, gunning for the end-line, before crossing a dangerous ball toward the near post that Coppolecchia looked to smother, but she misjudged, fumbling the ball and allowing Kirshe to step in and smack the ball into the back of an empty net.
"With every round that comes, we know that the teams are just going to keep getting better and better. We knew we had to capitalize on our opportunities…it's very much like playing like every second is your last, and that's what we've been doing out there," commented Kirshe after her hat-trick performance.
Even down four goals, however, the Bombers would not give up, as they once again tried to work their way into the game and find a way onto the scoreboard.
Just past the hour mark, a corner for the Ephs gave the Bombers an opportunity to counter. King was at the end of the move to launch an effort, not too unlike Kirshe's second goal, but Van Wetter was there to make the save.
Just a minute later, Eph senior Natalie Weyerhaeuser had a chance of her own to stretch the Ephs' lead to five, as Kirshe played a lovely through ball over the top seeking out Weyerhaeuser's dangerous run through the Bomber back line. Kirshe's pass picked her out, but Coppolecchia made another of her fourteen total saves on the day to deny Weyerhaeuser her goal.
Five minutes later, the Ephs had their turn at a look only twenty yards away from goal. Eph senior Alex McInturf took the free kick, sending her effort over the Bombers' defensive wall, but her shot, seemingly destined for the back of the net, was met by the fingertips of Coppolecchia, as she managed to do just enough to tip McInturf's shot onto the bar and then collect the rebound.
Two minutes later, King was again the Bomber who looked most likely to score a goal. She launched another long-distance effort on target, this time more firmly struck, forcing Van Wetter into an acrobatic tip over the crossbar to keep the Bombers off the scoresheet for a little longer.
The goal finally came in the 76th minute for the Bombers, however, but it was not King who managed to put the ball in the back of the net. A neat exchange of passes around the Eph penalty area ended with senior Jessie Warren putting junior Sarah Woychick one-on-one with Van Wetter, and Woychick ceased her chance to cut the Ephs' lead to just three goals, blasting the ball into the roof of Van Wetter's net.
Woychick's goal would be nothing more than a consolation, however, as the Eph defense locked down, ensuring that the Bombers' first goal would be their last of the 2014 season, ensuring the Ephs' progression into the NCAA Sweet 16 next weekend.
The industrious work of the Ephs' two holding midfielders, sophomore Maddie Swarr and freshman Evan Gancedo, combined with the Eph back line and Van Wetter, have rarely ever been overwhelmed by an opposing strike force, and today was no different: "Today we just played with confidence. There's no one thing really that we have done in particular…we've been able all season to work toward playing with one style and adjusting that game-by-game depending on the situation," echoed Swarr and Gancedo post-game.
The day's events would not be over, however, as the eyes of all the Eph supporters filled with tears in the 86th minute at the sight of Eph senior Hana Tomozawa being subbed onto the field, after tearing her ACL in a non-conference class with New England College on October 5th.
After the game Tomozawa was filled with emotions: "This team means the world to me. I was devastated, not just in terms of not being to play, but also because this team is made up of people who are more than just soccer players, they're great teammates. It's just so much fun to play with them, and it meant so much to be out there today and get to play with them.
Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard commented on her team's strong, all-around showing: "I'm just so pleased with every aspect of our performance, even the little things: the micro adjustments are sitting midfielders made, the forwards making runs at the back line, just everything. For me, Hana [Tomozawa] going onto the field probably brought tears to everyone's eyes, and that is so reflective of the energy and passion this teams brings to the field. I couldn't be happier."
The Ithaca College Bombers end their season 15-4-1 overall record, but the Ephs progress to the NCAA Sweet 16, this time with a good chance of having home-field advantage. Regarldess, the Ephs, now 18-1-1 on the season, will face off against Roger Williams next Saturday at a to-be-determined time.