WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - For almost an hour on Sunday afternoon, it looked like the contest between the Ephs and the RPI Redhawks on Cole Field might be a repeat of last year's affair, when the Troy, New York side held the Ephs goalless through regular time and both periods of overtime. However, first-year Alison Lu struck from for the 4th time in 5 games to break the deadlock, after Audrey Thomas won a penalty in the 57th minute.
Coming into the game the Redhawks had yet to concede a goal, recording clean sheets in each of their opening 4 games in the 2016 season, but it was always going to be difficult to make it 5 with the likes of Thomas, Lu, and Kristi Kirshe on the other side of the ball.
The Ephs controlled much of the run of play, creating a plethora of chances in the opening quarter of an hour. However, the rock-solid performance by the Redhawk defense weathered the storm that came their way in the form of Audrey Thomas.
The diminutive senior peppered the cherry and white's back line with tricky runs, but after 45 minutes, the Ephs had nothing to show for their endeavors.
Undeterred by RPI's resolute defending, the Ephs came out in the second half even more inspired than before, and Thomas' continued efforts finally won the Ephs the golden opportunity they were looking for, when she was body checked to the ground in the penalty area just before the hour mark.
Lu, having scored the penalty she herself had won on opening day, confidently stepped up and coolly rolled the ball into the back of the net, sending her first-year counterpart in goal, Joey Lyons, the wrong way and ending a scoring drought against RPI over the last two years that came out to slightly more than 166 minutes.
The Redhawks had few chances fall their way in either half, but their best chance at equalizing came with six minutes left on the clock.
Sara Harper, freshly substituted into the game, found herself with time and space, after a clever RPI attacking move.
With great poise, she picked out the run of Jacqui Richard, who had ghosted into the space behind the Eph defense as her defender stepped up to close down Harper. With just Olivia Barnhill left to beat, Richard attempted a shot low and to the keeper's right, but the sophomore was down ever so quickly to preserve a well-earned clean sheet.
"Our goal has been to put 90 minutes together of urgent, quick, and composed soccer, and I think we did that," reflected Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game. "[RPI] presented us with different challenges at different times in the game, and I think we did a good job solving those as we went."
Though the margin was only one, it could have easily been more.
Thomas had a two chances to open the scoring early in the first half.
In the 7th minute, the Williams #8 caught Lyons considerably off her line, after the former was the first person to arrive to a through ball from the foot of Kirshe. However, the forward's shot wasn't strong enough to make the Redhawks keeper pay for her momentary lapse.
Six minutes later, Thomas again gave Redhawk supporters a scare, when she almost latched onto the end of a chipped pass from Lu over the top of RPI's defense. Lyons and Jeanine Moreau were both also closing in on the ball, with the former only barely beating out the Washingtonian, who might have had a tap-in if not for the intervention.
Chances began to fall to other Ephs as well after the first 15 minutes, and Evan Gancedo found the ball at her feet in the 26th minute, and she launched an effort from 30 yards that almost dipped under Lyons' crossbar, finding the top of the netting instead.
It was more of the same after halftime, when Kirshe received a simple pass from Thomas just outside the 18-yard box. The senior striker pulled no punches and put her laces through her shot, but like Gancedo's effort from the first half, it only found the outside of Lyons' netting.
The Ephs' hunt for an opening goal ended eight minutes later, and Thomas almost doubled her side's advantage in the 66th minute. She somehow managed to direct her free header over Lyons' crossbar, however, after some impressive work by Sarah Sciré down the right flank.
As the Redhawks' time to find an equalizer began to dwindle, the home team effectively began to kill the game off, dominating possession for long stretches, with the only real chance falling to Richard in the 84th minute.
"I'm not thrilled that [Olivia Barnhill] had to show how good she was today," joked Pinard when asked about her keeper's goal-denying save late in the second half. "But I'm so glad she came through when we did need her… [RPI is] a good team, and I think we did a great job on them defensively for 89 minutes and 30 seconds, except for when we had a couple break downs that were scary.
Besides that, it was a quite comfortable 4th clean sheet of the season for the Ephs, with Danielle Sim and company bossing the RPI attackers for nearly all of the game.
Pinard piled on the praise for her rock in central defense when asked about Sim's transition into her new role at the heart of the Ephs' back line.
"I couldn't be more pleased with Dani [Sim's] progression as a center-back. She came in as one of our best one-v-one defenders: she's athletic, instinctive, just amazing. Where she's grown is her ability to organize and make everyone else around her better. It's just amazing to watch, and her relationship with Coach Sarah [Raymond] has been a big part of that."
RPI (4-1) will look to bounce back from the first loss of their season when they travel midweek to Hartwick College to play their sixth non-conference opponent of the season on Wednesday with an evening kickoff scheduled for 7 PM EDT.
Williams' win brings their record to 5-0 for the year, and their defending continues to impress, something they will need next weekend when they return to NESCAC play and travel to Amherst, Massachusetts to face off against one of their biggest rivals on Saturday.
"There's a couple things about Amherst," preached Pinard, as she transitioned into thinking about her matchup for next Saturday. "One, Amherst has dropped two games in the past week, and we know what we would be like if that happened to us. So we need to expect an even higher intensity game than might have been otherwise. The other thing is that they are one of the most athletic teams we've seen, so we were excited to see a team like RPI today, physically strong and speedy. That will help us prepare for next week…our goal is to disrupt that physicality and pace and hopefully counter that, and that will be our goal all week in training."
The Ephs will make the trip east on Saturday morning, and the game is set to get underway at 12 PM EDT.