WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass — Saturday saw the Ephs line up for their fourth game in eight days, a grueling soccer schedule by any measure, but the Ephs' showdown with reigning NESCAC champions, Connecticut College, was not a game that any of them were going to take lightly. Having felt heartbreak at the hands of the Camels in the NESCAC Championship last year, the Ephs were determined to prevnt a repeat of that performance, as Jacqueline Simeone's first career goal, combined with Crystal Lewin's first in two years, sent the Camels back to New London with little reward for their admirable efforts.
Just over six minutes before the halftime break, the Ephs won a foul in the heart of midfield, pushing several people forward into the box for the ensuing delivery. Simeone took the free kick, attempting to pick out one of the runners in the box; instead, it looked to fly too near Camel backup goalkeeper, Alex Santiago, as she seemed poised to snag the ball out of midair. However, the ball managed to elude her grasp and it somehow found its way into the back of the net.
With about the same amount of time left in the second half, Lewin put the game to bed with her first goal since 2013. She collected an attempted Camel clearance and immediately fed the ball back into birthday-girl, Audrey Thomas. The Washingtonian didn't dwell on the ball for long, however, as she immediately fed the ball back to the darting Lewin for her to launch a gorgeous dipping effort that nestled into the top-left corner of Santiago's goal.
Disregarding the Ephs' two-goal performance, for a large majority of the game, the Camels looked up to the task of rendering the impressive Eph attacking machine impotent.
The cagey affair required the better part of a quarter of an hour before either side generated a real chance, as Kristi Kirshe smashed a shot off backup goalkeeper, Alex Santiago's, right post just after the sixteenth-minute mark. Kirshe picked up the ball in midfield and had a go at the Camel backline, running past several defenders before rifling a left-footed effort across the face of goal that connected squarely with the woodwork.
In the 32nd minute, the Camels managed to create a decent chance for Lauren Steele in the Eph penalty area. Mackenzie Kingston floated the ball into the box from a free kick on the left side, which Steele rose over several Eph defenders to meet, but her header traveled well wide of the target when all was said and done.
Seven minutes later, the Ephs had their lead after Simeone's free kick, but the Camels recovered well enough from their defensive mishap to keep the deficit at just the one goal heading into halftime.
Six minutes after the restart, Thomas had a chance to bag a goal on her birthday, but Santiago was there to atone for her earlier mistake. Kirshe made another probing run at the Camel back line, drawing out several defenders, allowing her to feed Thomas through on the right side for her to have a crack at goal from an angle that Santiago always had covered.
The Camels almost reaped their reward from their outstanding defensive play, when they had their best chance to equalize in the 66th minute. The Ephs conceded a foul just thirty yards from goal, which allowed Alex Bukovac a good look at goal, but Eph keeper Tressa Palcheck was over quickly to her near post to save the Camel #11's sharply hit free kick.
In the 79th minute, the Ephs foreshadowed Lewin's strike, as Gabz Amos-Grosser expertly cut out a pass intended to find Livi Block knifing through the Eph defense, allowing the San Francisco native to rampage forward through the midfield before finding Kirshe in the center of the pitch to blister a shot that only just stayed on the wrong side of the crossbar.
Seven minutes later, Lewin started and finished the Ephs' second of the day, ensuring the purple and gold of their ninth victory of the season and a continued perfect start, as the remarkable Eph defense once again produced a clean sheet, their sixth of the season and fourth on the bounce.
After the game, Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard heaped praise on her team's performance: "I think [Connecticut College] threw something at us that we weren't quite used to seeing, and I'm really pleased with the fact that we solved it, stayed positive, and were tough today…they're a good team. They're obviously an energetic and competitive crew, and they really gave us a great game today."
With the loss, the Camels slump to 1-4-3 overall (NESCAC 0-2-3) and have little time to dwell on their 5-game winless start to NESCAC play, as they travel to central Massachusetts to take on Amherst on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM EDT. The Ephs, on the other hand, continue their impressive run of form, as they raise their winning streak to 9 games to start the 2015 season (9-0-0, NESCAC 7-0-0). The Ephs now have a well-earned break, as they have six days to prepare for their clash with RPI next Saturday in Troy, scheduled for a 12 PM EDT kickoff.
"I don't need to do much to keep this team focused," added Pinard during her post-game thoughts. "These players have their eyes on the ball and have their goals set. They know what they want to do, and I thought that we executed today as well as they could have under the circumstances…the most exciting part about all of it is that we know that we haven't peaked yet, that we can continue to get better each and every game."