WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With her size and stature, Amherst were probably not expecting Audrey Thomas to score a goal in the air, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday, as both the Ephs and the Lord Jeffs put their perfect starts to the season to the test on a beautiful fall day on Cole Field. With thoughts and memories of their lone loss of the 2014 season on many Eph minds, the in-form Thomas, combined with a heroic effort from Eph keeper Tressa Palcheck, saw the Ephs reap their vengeance, 1-0, on Saturday.
"Audrey [Thomas] is so dynamic and so tough for teams to deal with defensively…she wanted this one badly today, and it showed in her performance out there today," commented Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the match, and dynamic is exactly what Thomas proved to be.
Ten minutes into the game, the Ephs rose to the test, as Audrey Thomas netted her 10th goal of the season from the unlikeliest of circumstances. A beautiful, flowing move down the left wing started as Katie Wardlaw played a tidy one-two with fellow junior Kristi Kirshe to create space enough for the Californian to send a cross into the box. Deflecting off a defender, her ball ricocheted out to Kirshe, who floated a shot toward Holly Burwick's goal that looked to be dipping under the crossbar until Burwick fingered it onto the woodwork. The chance was not gone for the Ephs, however, as the opportunistic Thomas was in the right place at the right time to head the rebound into the back of the net from close range.
The Lord Jeffs weren't licking their early wounds for long, as it took them just five minutes to regroup and create a genuine opportunity to level the match from a corner. The cross in from the left was only half-cleared out of the danger zone, falling nicely for Megan Root to have a go at, but she dragged her effort just wide of the goal.
"Teams like Amherst just make you uncomfortable. We're so lucky to play a team that is this good and will challenge us this early in the season," reflected Pinard, and it was a reflection that held true throughout the 90-minute contest.
On the very next possession down the other end of the field, the Ephs came ever so close to doubling their lead. Crystal Lewin jetted down the right touchline before lofting a cross to the back post, looking for the on-rushing Wardlaw, who had an open look at goal, but Burwick got over to deny the junior her first goal of the season.
Seven minutes later, the Jeffs had their best chance of the game to score up to that point through Rubii Tamen. Rachael Abernathy took a corner on the right side, flighting it in to the near post, where Tamen was on hand to belt a pair of shots toward the Ephs' goal that were saved well by Palcheck with a little help from midfielder, Evan Gancedo.
Then in the 32nd minute, Swarr was denied only by the combination of Burwick and the crossbar, as an attempted clearance off an Eph corner found its way to the top of the box for her to rifle on target. It look destined for the back of the net, but Burwick got just enough on it at full stretch to knock it on to the bar. Abby Morss was on hand for the follow-up, but Burwick was there yet again to deny the Ephs a two-goal lead.
Both sides looked content to take the 1-0 scoreline into halftime, but the Ephs weren't quite done yet, as Gancedo carved out a terrific chance for Hanna Kaeser to notch a second goal. Kaeser ghosted through the Jeff back line and found herself one-on-one with Burwick. The New Yorker had great poise to round Burwick, but seemed to be tripped on her way, doing well to keep her balance and stay on her feet. However, the disruption did just enough to allow Delancey King time to track back and clear Kaeser's eventual shot off the line, seeing the game into halftime at 1-0.
The Lord Jeffs took advantage of their resolute defending from the first half, as their attack came out firing on all cylinders in the second.
One of the scorers from last season's fixture, Hannah Guzzi, looked like she surely would score six minutes after the restart, as she slipped between the Eph central defenders to latch onto an inch-perfect through ball from the midfield. With only the keeper to beat, Guzzi drove at Palcheck, but the Chicago native kept her composure and was not fooled by Guzzi's faked shot attempt, ultimately saving Guzzi's genuine effort to equalize.
Five minutes later, it was Burwick's turn to be tested again by the Eph frontline. Another textbook flowing move saw Lewin feed Kirshe in a central position, who one-timed a pass through to Thomas on the right side of the Jeff penalty area. Thomas' ensuing low effort forced Burwick down quickly to make the save.
Just after the hour mark, Palcheck was called on again to ensure the Ephs maintained their advantage. Megan Kim engineered her second chance in as many minutes, and she found herself one-on-one with the keeper after a cross-field pass, producing a wonderful save out of Palcheck.
With time winding down, the Ephs began to soak up more and more pressure, as the Jeffs pushed forward on their quest to level the match. However, the Eph defense proved resolute, and managed to orchestrate a chance on a counter in the 82nd minute.
Lewin once again pulled the strings, as she ran at the Jeff defense, allowing for Kirshe to break away down the right touchline. Lewin played Kirshe a pass that angled her run toward goal, but instead of taking the shot on herself, the Massachusite laid the ball off for Thomas to have a strike at an open net. Tamen, however, tracked back and closed Thomas down just well enough to prevent her from having her third multi-goal game in a row.
As the full-time whistle loomed, the Jeffs desperately sought a goal that would give them new life in the form of extra time, but it was not to be, as the Eph defense once again proved to be impenetrable, as they collectively recorded their third clean sheet of the 2015 campaign.
"The whole focus this year has been getting better…and I felt that we came into this game prepared for what was in front of us," commented Pinard after the game. "I was pleased to have a one-goal situation with Amherst because they really forced us to stay as organized as we possibly could. We've talked a lot about taking care of the ball no matter the situation, and with the quality that Amherst had on the field, I was really pleased with the result."
The Ephs, now 6-0 (NESCAC 5-0), have only hours to enjoy their rivalry triumph, as they return to action Sunday morning against yet another NESCAC foe, as the Bobcats from Bates College visit the Ephs with kickoff set for 11 AM EDT. Similarly, Amherst, now 4-1 (NESCAC 2-1), returns to central Massachusetts to face off against non-conference Wheaton (Mass.) in a tilt that is set to get underway at 2 PM EDT on Sunday afternoon.