WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — "Peace, love, Cole." According to Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard, that is what the team says when they talk about their love affair with their home turf.
Not only was Saturday a celebration of the seniors and their incredible contributions to the Eph women's soccer program over the past four seasons, but Saturday also marked three years to-the-day since the Ephs last suffered a loss on their beloved home ground. It was a celebration and a milestone that would not be spoiled by the visiting Jumbos of Tufts University, as the Ephs showed yet again how nigh-on-impossible it is to emerge triumphant from the Purple Valley.
However, it wasn't a senior that stole the headlines, as a first-year, Kristina Alvarado, and a sophomore, Evan Gancedo, bagged the goals, combining with the Ephs' 10th clean sheet of the season, that sent the Jumbos packing back to Boston unrewarded.
"[Three years without a loss at home] is an amazing run," reflected Pinard after the full-time whistle. "It's almost unheard of in the game of soccer. It speaks to how much the seniors and the whole team respect this beautiful field we get to play on."
Alvarado got the celebrations on Cole Field under way less than five minutes after kickoff, as the Ephs came out firing. Alvarado made a probing run at the left side of the Jumbo defense, leaving one defender in the dust before she sent a ball in towards fellow striker, Kristi Kirshe. The Massachusite shrugged off her defender and blindly fired a shot from close range at Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers, who managed to parry away that initial effort. However, Alvarado didn't give up on the move she started, and she was on-hand to finish off the follow-up, tapping it past the helpless Bowers to give the Ephs an early 1-0 lead.
In the 19th minute, Bower was called upon to prevent senior Mai Mitsuyama from scoring the first goal of her career, on Senior Day no less. After a chaotic several seconds in the Jumbo penalty area, the ball finally rattled its way to the feet of Mitsuyama, who looked to find the top corner, only to see her maiden goal denied by the freshman Jumbo.
Just five minutes later, the Jumbos almost found an equalizer through Alex Scheman. The sophomore New Yorker fought through a defensive challenge from Danielle Sim at the top of the Eph penalty area, creating enough space to fire a shot at goal, but Eph keeper, Tressa Palcheck, was equal to it and guided it away from the back of her net.
Nine minutes after the restart, the Ephs had another chance to double their lead, as the creativity of Mitsuyama orchestrated a chance for Alvarado after Kirshe rolled a ball across the face of goal that was only just cut out in time by Alexa Pius before the Californian arrived.
Just before the hour mark, Alvarado almost notched her second goal of the game when she used her considerable foot skills to bypass a pair of Jumbo defenders and sent a ball toward the bottom corner of the net. Bower was once again there, however, as she got down well to push the shot away from goal.
Three minutes later, the Jumbos started to assert their dominance, as they had two chances to draw level. Emma Ranalli was afforded time and space from about 25 yards out to unleash a ferocious effort that looked destined for the back of Palcheck's net, before the junior keeper was able to elevate and tip the well-struck ball onto the crossbar and gratefully out of danger.
Palcheck was not so lucky seven minutes later, when Chandler Quinton tried roughly the same shot from roughly the same location with roughly the same result, rattling Palcheck's bar. Instead of ricocheting away from the danger area, however, the ball deflected right back into the Ephs' six-yard box to the feet of Jess Capone, but somehow she was unable to find the target, skying her shot well off target and leaving the Jumbos in despair.
Sufficiently jolted by the pair of Jumbo chances, the Ephs reasserted control over the game, and Gancedo earned the Ephs an insurance goal just over five minutes from full-time. With multiple options in front of her, Kirshe poked a pass toward Gancedo on the right side of the Eph attack, for the Williams #10 to hit a dipping strike that left Bower with little to do but watch the ball sneak in just underneath her bar, sealing the Ephs' victory.
After the game, Pinard praised the impact of the seniors, not just in Saturday's game but in every game this season: "These seniors have provided us with the stability to weather the little storms throughout the season. We lean on them to keep us steady and strong, and as we near the end of the season, we know that we have that in our back pocket. Now, we're looking to really start celebrating the amazing things that have happened this season.
Pinard also talked about her team's approach to the final regular-season game, continuing into the postseason: "I think we realized that we are going to play our best when we are enjoying ourselves and loving it out there, and I think we are going to shed any expectation of being perfect and just go after it for the rest of the season. That's what you saw today."
With the loss, Tufts sinks to 6-6-2 (NESCAC 4-4-1) and are in a battle for the 5th seed in the NESCAC Tournament with Bates and Middlebury. They play host to second place Bowdoin on the final day of the regular season on Tuesday in an attempt to clinch that 5th spot. Kickoff for that game is set at 3 PM EDT.
Meanwhile, the Ephs continue their undefeated season, extending their record to 13-0-1 (NESCAC 9-0-0), and close out their regular season on Tuesday, as they travel north to Vermont to face off against conference rival, Middlebury. If they win, they will hold a perfect NESCAC regular-season record and an unbeaten regular season. Kickoff is similarly scheduled for 3 PM EDT.