Ephs fall in NCAA title match with Lynchburg, 4-3, in penalties

Ephs fall in NCAA title match with Lynchburg, 4-3, in penalties

KANSAS CITY, MO — All year long, the Williams College women's soccer team lived the motto, "Every second."

Turns out the only way to deny the Ephs is when there is no time on the clock. Saturday night, once again, the Ephs played every second like champions. But after 110 minutes of enthralling soccer against No. 1 Lynchburg, the scoreless match was sent to penalties, and the Hornets emerged with the national championship, 4-3.

Williams finished its season 21-2-1, its first 20-win season in program history and a berth in the national championship game for the first time. Lynchburg won its first national title, finishing 27-0-1.

The Ephs will lose nine seniors to graduation.

"I think this senior class set the standard on what it means to lead," Ephs' head coach Michelyne Pinard said. "And this team set the standard on what it means to compete."

For either side, penalty kicks was a harsh way to end such an tight matchup, and the first action of the game came just after the first minute. The Ephs were denied a goal only by the Hornet crossbar. It started from a counterattack, where Thomas was unleashed by Lewin; however she lost the ball in her feet before she could get a shot off, allowing for a defender to recover and clear. The clearance fell to Mai Mitsuyama who then played a ball to Lewin down the right, whose cross found the foot of Kirshe, but Kirshe's looping ball didn't have enough dip to slip in under the crossbar.

In the 14th minute, the Hornets had the best chance of the first half, as Dessi Dupuy was sprung through clean on goal by a pass by a long ball over the top from the midfield. Hannah Van Wetter raced all the way off her line to the edge of the penalty area to meet her and managed to deflect her shot away from the net. However, the ball then fell kindly to another Hornet to fire another shot, which was destined for the back of the net, if it were not for the recovering Louisa Costa to head the ball off the line and out of danger.

Six minutes later, it was Kirshe again, as she ran onto a long ball from Alison Magruder, but her first time shot was handled well by Tess Frelick.

Five minutes later saw the Ephs best chance of the half, as it was Audrey Thomas' turn to have a go at goal. A brilliant exchange of passes that started with the right foot of Kirshe saw Lewin play an inch-perfect through ball for the knifing Thomas, bur Thomas low, driven effort is dragged agonizingly wide of the target.

The final good chance of the half came in the 29th minute, again as a result from a clever run from Thomas. Kirshe slipped a ball between the Hornet central defenders, allowing Thomas to muscle her defender off the ball, but Frelick did well to come off her line and smother the ball before Thomas could knock into the back of the net.

The second half started more or less the same as the first ended, as the Ephs dominated the chances early on.

Less than a minute into the restart, as they orchestrated a beautiful counterattack that saw Lewin play a ball up to Kirshe, who slipped a wonderful ball through to the knifing Thomas, but she can't get enough power behind her shot to test Frelick.

Three minutes later, it was the Hornets' turn to have a chance to open up the score, as Dupuy jetted through the midfield on a counterattack, skipping past several Eph defenders' tackles, but her chip from the acutest of angles could not find the back of the net and trickled wide of the target.

Just before the hour mark, the Hornets had another chance where they surely thought they had broken past the impenetrable Eph defense. Angela Bosco fought her way down the left to then cut inside toward the box and fired a shot toward the Eph goal mouth, beating the onrushing Van Wetter, but Magruder was there to boot the ball off the line.

For the next 20 minutes, there was a massive duel in the midfield, but as the game entered its dying ten minutes, the Hornets took control of the game, besieging the Eph penalty area and launching attack after attack toward Van Wetter's goal.

In the 88th minute, Lilly Wellenbach put a beautiful last-ditch sliding tackle on Dupuy, as she looked to break through one-on-one with Van Wetter, clearing the ball out for a corner.

The proceeding corner was sent into the middle of the Eph penalty area, rattling around the six-yard box, but somehow, the Eph defense managed to see it out of danger after a series of incredible saves by both Van Wetter and several Eph defenders, seemingly willing the game into overtime.

Each team had opportunities in the extra sessions, but the match with these two evenly matched teams was destined for more.

Four Ephs made the All-Tournament team: Lilly Wellenbach, Maddie Swarr, Mai Mitsuyama, and the offensive MVP, Audrey Thomas.