WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - The Williams women's soccer team closed out their first week of the new campaign with a non-conference battle against Skidmore College on Sunday afternoon, capping off a grueling start to the 2016 season that required the Ephs to play three games in five days.
Each team came in with perfect records at this early stage, but only the purple and gold emerged flawless.
They bossed the game from the very beginning and capitalized on one of their first opportunities when Alison Lu found the back of the net for the third time in as many games. That goal, combined with Nkem Iregbulem's first of her young career in the 82nd minute, was the difference, and the Ephs extended their unblemished record (3-0), while handing the Thoroughbreds their first loss of the year (2-1).
Lu reaped the rewards of a strong buildup down the right side of the Skidmore defense in the 8th minute. Natasha Albaneze worked the ball onto her left foot, so she could smartly pick out Natalie Turner-Wyatt in the area. The sophomore's attempt at goal, however, didn't make it past the first defender, caroming off Brianna Worobel's midriff. Unfortunately for the green and yellow, the ball fell kindly to the waiting first-year's favored right foot, and Lu made no mistake spectacularly chipping Alyssa Rollins in net to open the scoring.
Rather symmetrically, the only other goal of the game came 8 minutes from the full-time whistle.
Iregbulem, who had been looking dangerous up top all afternoon, finally made one of her chances count, barreling through the Thoroughbred defense, skipping through several challenges before finishing with aplomb by keeping her shot low and to the keeper's right, giving the Ephs a two-goal lead that would hold up until the full-time whistle and confirm the Ephs' second clean sheet of the year.
"This is only the third game that Dani [Sim] has ever played in that center-back role, so you're seeing her growth in such a short amount of time.," remarked Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game when asked about the early progression of her defensive unit. "You have to be on the same page for defending, and it's taking some time but we're starting to get there. I'm pleased with that development…and they've come a long way already."
In spite of the Ephs' dominance on the scoreline, it could easily have been more if not for the combination of Rollins and her woodwork.
In the 22nd minute, Kristi Kirshe almost made it two for the Ephs, but Rollins rushed out to meet the enterprising senior, blocking her toe-poked effort away from the danger area.
Lu almost doubled her own haul less than a minute after Kirshe's missed opportunity, when Sarah Sciré beautifully picked her out inside the 18-yard-box, but her first-time shot with her left foot agonizingly flew wide of the mark.
More agony for the Eph supporters came in the 39th minute, when Iregbulem struck the base of Rollins' left post after the Californian had shrugged off her defender, Nicole LoRusso.
One more chance came before halftime for the Ephs, when Madison Feeney made a run into the box to connect with a well-weighted Erika Jung cross, only to then not be able to direct her header on target.
The Thoroughbreds had some chances of their own in the first half, with Basso chasing down a long ball over the top in the 32nd minute, but Williams goalkeeper, Olivia Barnhill, was off her line early to snuff out the counterattack.
Basso had another chance five minutes later, when she ghosted into the box off the shoulder of Eph defender Katelyn Long, but Long recovered well to block the sophomore forward's attempt at a volley.
The second half was more or less the same story, as the Ephs were fast out of the gates in creating chances.
Albaneze flew down the right flank after a pass from Katie Wardlaw and had the composure to then find Kirshe at the near post, but Rollins made easy work of the save.
Ten minutes later it was Albaneze's turn. The New Yorker came onto an attempted clearance that had been sent high into the sky and made sure to put her laces through it, sending an absolute bullet in the direction of Rollins, but the junior goalkeeper mercifully watched it scream just over her bar.
Feeney was next to be denied her first goal of the season, after she was first to a brilliantly conceived lifted pass by Iregbulem, but Rollins again was on hand to keep the Thoroughbreds' deficit at just the one for the time being.
Then, only moments before Iregbulem would finally get on the scoresheet, Kate Sands found Rollins' other post, cutting in from the left wing to wallop a shot at goal, only to rattle the woodwork for the second time of the afternoon.
Then Iregbulem finally got the Ephs' second, but four minutes later, she might have had a second one of her own after she was brought down recklessly in the penalty area by LoRusso.
However, her take from the penalty spot left something to be desired, and Rollins had no trouble parrying the ball away from goal and then keeping Lu's follow-up out as well.
The Ephs had one final chance to add a third goal in the 89th minute, when Sarah Kelly sprinted all the way forward from defense during a counterattack.
Jacqueline Simeone played the ball up to midfield maestro Evan Gancedo, who put the ball nicely into the path of Kelly, but the first-year's 80-yard run ended in slight disappointment when she rocketed her shot over Rollins' bar.
The Ephs may have created more chances, but even in the second half, the Thoroughbreds had opportunities of their own to draw level.
In the 66th minute, Jacqueline Carames played teammate Emily Mendes through the Ephs' backline, but Danielle Sim did more than enough to shift across and hook the ball clear of the danger zone.
Even just before the Ephs' second, Skidmore might have equalized, when Elizabeth Schaeffer lofted a free kick into a dangerous area that required quite a bit from Jung and Long to head clear.
Nevertheless, the Ephs' attack and their defense operated at a high enough level to record the win, and Pinard recognizes that that desired sharpness up front will take a little more time to fully develop.
"One of our goals is to be a dynamic attacking team," explained Pinard. "And the timing of those runs and the timing of those balls in, specifically the final balls, are not easy. We're starting to be a little more dynamic, and any time we can create a dangerous chance, that's exciting for us. Obviously the next step is finishing those. It's a purposeful progression, and ideally we'll be getting on the board a little more often when we create those dangerous chances in the future."
The Ephs' next opportunity to create more chances won't be until the end of the coming week, something Pinard is very happy about after surviving three games in five days to start the season.
In six days' time, the Ephs will play host to their third NESCAC opponent of the season, Colby, who the Ephs breezed past 8-0 last time around. That was last year, however, and this year's edition is set to begin at 11 AM EDT.