CASTLETON, Vt. - After a tough battle with Connecticut College on Saturday, the Ephs trekked up to Vermont on Sunday to face off against perennial non-conference opponent, Castleton, with the Spartans coming off comfortable 13-0 and 7-0 wins in their last two games.
The Spartans had the tables turned on them, however, as the Ephs went off for 8 goals on Sunday from 6 different players, while Kristi Kirshe became the Ephs' all-time leader in points with her 1-goal-and-3-assist performance.
"We knew we were going to be playing on turf, a substantially faster surface, today," spoke Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard of her team's mindset going into their contest against Castleton. "A lot of our California, west-coast kids, were excited to play on that surface because they are used to it, and we really settled down in the second half and played exactly the kind of game that we are capable of out there."
Katie Wardlaw opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a sensational long-range finish.
With the ball at her feet, Audrey Thomas carved apart the Spartan defense with a perfectly weighted through ball that matched the run of Sarah Sciré. Rushing into the penalty area, the first-year collected the ball and directed a shot toward goal, forcing an impressive save out of Jessica Binkowski.
However, Castleton hadn't fully alleviated the danger yet, as Binkowski's parry fell right to the feet of Wardlaw 25 yards out from goal on the right side. Deciding quickly to make an effort at the Spartans' temporarily vacant net, the senior blasted an effort toward goal, and even though there were several Spartan defenders retreating to try to cover for their veteran keeper, Wardlaw's effort was unstoppable, nestling in the left panel of the goal for Williams' first goal of the afternoon and Wardlaw's first of the season.
The Ephs doubled their lead 11 minutes later after Kirshe and Alison Lu combined to add another goal to their blossoming partnership.
After her initial attempt was repelled by the Spartan defense, Kristina Alvarado tried again to force a pass to Kirshe in the penalty area, deflecting off a defender and high into the air. Although she was faced with Binkowski, who had decided at the last second to come off her line to put Kirshe under pressure, the senior forward was still able to coolly bring the ball down and find Lu to her right, for the first-year to tap in her 6th goal of the season.
With her appetite for goals whetted, Lu wasted little time grabbing her second of the afternoon 5 minutes later.
This time Alvarado was the provider, and she made the final pass in this attacking move, putting the ball right onto the feet of Lu, who then laced a shot into the bottom-left corner past a fully extended Binkowski.
If Spartan supporters thought the halftime break would offer their team a chance to regroup and mount a response, they were sorely disappointed, as Evan Gancedo extended the Ephs' advantage to 4 goals, less than 3 minutes after the restart.
Natalie Turner-Wyatt belted a corner into the danger area, and the Ephs capitalized on the opportunity, as Gancedo tallied her first goal of the season after the ball rattled around the penalty area briefly.
Seven minutes later, Turner-Wyatt got in on the action for the Ephs' fifth, as she went from orchestrator to scorer with an absolute rocket from 30 yards that found the top corner and left Binkowski with little chance at saving the sophomore's shot.
In the 81st minute, Kirshe finally got a goal of her own, as roles reversed from the Ephs' second, with Lu putting the ball on a platter for Kirshe to finish.
In the swiftest of counterattacking moves, Lu dinked a pass over the top of the Spartan defense, and Kirshe simply outran her defender to it. Binkowski was out early to force the senior into shooting before she wanted to, but Kirshe kept her head and slotted her shot under Binkowski for the Ephs' sixth.
With just five minutes left, Lu completed her hat trick, after Kirshe stole the ball off of a Castleton defender in her own defensive-third. The senior's head snapped up immediately and found Lu unmarked and onside in the penalty area, leaving the first-year with little more to do than place the ball in the back of the net to record the Ephs' seventh.
Thomas finished off the afternoon's scoring with her first goal of the season, just 34 seconds after Castleton got play back underway.
The Ephs swarmed forward in attack, and Kirshe completed her hat trick of assists by finding Thomas just inside the box for her to finish with a flourish past Binkowski.
After the game, Pinard focused on how this performance will drive her team moving forward, and one of her focus points was on Thomas' first goal of the season.
"Audrey [Thomas] scoring is important for her and for the team," posited Pinard. "But everyone also knows that everyone has to contribute to scoring goals, as well as getting back defensively, if this team is going to be successful. Audrey has done so many things for this team, and we're really hoping that this opens the flood gates for her."
Things didn't always look so easy for the Ephs, as Binkowski made several fine saves early to deny Thomas an even earlier opener than Wardlaw eventually managed.
Buoyed by their keeper's saves, the Spartans then had a chance to be the ones who opened Sunday's scoring, as they won a corner on the left side after a spirited counterattacking move down the right side of the Ephs' defense.
Dominique Valancius bent the ball into the box, enticing Olivia Barnhill to come off her line to try to punch the ball clear of the danger area. However, the sophomore keeper misjudged the flight of the ball and missed her punch, leaving the Ephs' goal gaping for a Spartan to plunk the ball into the back of it. Castleton couldn't take advantage of the opportunity though, and the Eph defenders combined to eventually work the ball out of their own penalty area.
"We have a ton of respect for Castleton," explained Pinard with reverence when asked about how the game might have been different if the Spartans had put away their early chance. "Their attackers are fast and can get in behind. We knew that we had to be on top of our game, so their early chance really woke us up. Sometimes on Sunday games, we can be a little slow to start, but that put us in the rind mindset for the rest of the game."
Binkowski's efforts would not hold the Ephs at bay for much longer though, and Wardlaw broke the deadlock shortly thereafter. From there, the goals started to flow freely for the Ephs, with Lu adding two more before halftime, and then an array of Ephs contributed in the second.
With her goal and three assists, Kirshe extended her career points tally to 102, surpassing the previous record of 97 held by Stacey Starner '03.
"Kristi Kirshe came in as one of the most phenomenal athletes and competitors we've ever had," praised Pinard of her star senior. "She's constantly trying to improve…she came in as an athlete, and is leaving as a soccer player. She's leaving way more complete than she came in, and that record is a tribute to her openness and flexibility about what it means to be a great soccer player."
With the win, the Ephs improve their record to 8-0-1 on the season, while the Spartans slump to 3-6-3. Both teams have the next five days off before they each return to action next Saturday.
Castleton will play host to conference opponents the University of Maine at Farmington at 1 PM EDT, as they look to get their season back on track. Meanwhile, the Ephs will continue their non-conference play with a home game against Bard next Saturday at 12 PM EDT.
"Sometimes the goals fall sometimes they don't," reflected Pinard on her team's goal-scoring prowess thus far this season. "Our lack of goals has forced us to be sharp defensively. Now that we have started scoring, it's good to have that confidence flowing. But no one is thinking the flood gates are open and that it's going to be easy. We know we have to earn every goal we put on the board."