NEW LONDON, Conn. - The Ephs kicked off their second straight weekend of away fixtures on Saturday morning, with a trip south and east from Williamstown to New London, Connecticut and the home NESCAC foe, Connecticut College.
Both teams entered the wet and windy afternoon contest undefeated thus far this season, the Camels with a perfect 7 wins from 7 and the Ephs with 6 wins and a draw, but only the Ephs managed to maintain their undefeated track record, thanks to Kristi Kirshe's third goal of the season and the Eph defense's sixth clean sheet of the year.
Kirshe notched the only goal of the afternoon in the 36th minute, finishing off a deadly Eph counter-attack.
After the Camels threw numbers forward for Alex Bukovac's long throw-in near the right corner-flag, the Ephs swiftly funneled the ball to Kristina Alvarado around the halfway line so that she could unleash Alison Lu down the right flank. Approaching the penalty area, the stand-out first-year picked her head up to find Kirshe streaming into the penalty area. The senior striker did well to win Lu's pass from her defender, before poking a shot under the right arm of Brianna Montalvo and into the back of the net via the base of the left post to give the Ephs the lead.
"Connecticut College did a good job putting all 11 of their players way behind the ball," explained Pinard of the time leading up to the Ephs' breakthrough. "We struggled to transition quickly enough to bypass their numbers. Once we figured that out though, we did a good job breaking them down. When we scored, that opened the game up a lot too, and I was pleased with our patience. We could've been rattled or frustrated, but we weren't."
After a rather slow opening 20 minutes, the first two chances of the afternoon came by way of set pieces.
First, the Camels' Livi Block sent in a free kick from deep in the midfield, placing it perfectly onto the head of Jessica Foley inside the Eph 18-yard-box. Foley elevated off the ground connecting her head with the ball, but she came under enough pressure from her marker to misplace her header over Olivia Barnhill's crossbar.
A minute later, the Ephs had a free kick of their own, after Sarah Sciré was fouled 25 yards out on the left side of goal. Natasha Albaneze hovered over it, before curling in an inviting free kick, but Bukovac was first to it heading the ball clear while under pressure from an Eph attacker.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, Alison Lu made her first impression on the game by darting through the Camel back line to fire a shot off a defender to win a corner.
On the ensuing string of corners, Montalvo misjudged one of Simeone's deliveries, leaving the Camels' goal gaping, but the Ephs were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
Then the Ephs opened the scoring with less than 10 minutes left until halftime, to put the home team behind for only the second time this season.
Right out of the restart, the Camels looked determined to get on the board, and created another chance from a free.
Instead of trying to find the head of a teammate, Block went directly on target this time, stinging the palms of Barnhill, who looked slightly caught off guard that the junior had opted to go direct.
Then the Camels had their best chance of the game up to that point to equalize through.
Foley timed her enterprising run to perfection, chasing down a through ball and finding herself one-on-one with Barnhill. With only the keeper to beat, the first-year tried to slot her shot under Barnhill, but the Ephs' shot-stopper was alive to the danger and made another crucial save.
From there, the Camels continued to pepper Barnhill's goal, creating many more chances than they had managed in the first half.
The Camels fired another free kick directly at Barnhill's goal from just outside the right edge of the area, but the sophomore keeper was once again equal to the challenge.
Several minutes later, Nicole Medina pulled up from distance to test Barnhill, but the New Yorker watched the ball all the way into her arms for a rather comfortable save.
The pressure continued to mount, and the Camels' next chance came from a counterattack that looked very similar to the one the Ephs scored from in the first half.
A Camel forward burst down the right flank before blasting a cross toward the center of the area, but Katelyn Long was on-hand to deflect Mia Santana's imminent shot away from goal.
The proceeding corner also asked questions of the Ephs' defense, as the ball rattled around inside the Ephs' 6-yard-box for several breathless moments, before an Eph defender eventually slammed the ball up-field for a temporary respite.
As the clock ticked into the 85th minute, the Camels' efforts began to look a little desperate.
Alexa Tribelli advanced down the right side of the Ephs' defense, but Danielle Sim patrolled the danger well, forcing Tribelli away from goal and into an attempted cross that Long could easily hook clear.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Ephs' front trio of Audrey Thomas, Kirshe, and Lu relieved the pressure well, creating several chances at the Camels' end of the field, but they were unable to put the game to bed with a second goal, allowing the Camels one final chance to force overtime.
In the final seconds, Madison Feeney's defensive capabilities were tested after a long ball over the top. With Sim caught farther up in the midfield, it was a footrace between the Eph sophomore and Tribelli. After a should-to-shoulder challenge that saw the Camel junior take a tumble just outside the penalty area, many of the Camel supporters at Tempel Green were incensed, but the referee waved play on as time ticked down to zero.
"Today was the most pressure we've been put under," reflected Pinard when asked about the number of chances the Camels had to score a goal. "We learned a lot though, and we're going to build off that. When they put numbers forward, they really looked dangerous, and I'm hoping that in the future, we can prevent teams from creating those sort of chances."
The Camels, now 7-1-0 (NESCAC 3-1-0) have a full week to process their first set-back of the year, before they travel to Maine next Saturday to square off against Bates at 11 AM EDT.
Meanwhile, with the win, the Ephs improve to 7-0-1 (NESCAC 5-0-1) on the season, and they will make a brief pit-stop back in Williamstown before heading north into Vermont to face off against non-conference opposition, Castleton, on Sunday at 12 PM EDT.
Thinking back on the close-call last year with the Spartans, Pinard hopes her team can maintain their energy levels for tomorrow's trip: "Castleton is incredibly dangerous. They have a lot of weapons up top, and they can score a lot of goals. It's hard to play back-to-back games any time, and back-to-back away games even more so. I'll be excited to see our show up for that game, and see what they have to put on the table."