WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - For the second time in as many years, the Ephs played the Continentals in their first game of the year, and then again in the NESCAC Quarterfinal round. In 2015, it was 1-0 on opening day, then 2-1 in the postseason, but the upstate New York outfit was looking to reverse their 3-0 regular season defeat this year, with a win over the #1-seeded Ephs.
Although the Continentals' mission of upsetting the second-ranked team in the country got off to a good start, their early dominance, which earned them a goal, was ultimately overturned by a continuous Eph onslaught, first by Natalie Turner-Wyatt and Kristi Kirshe in the first half and then by Danielle Sim and Alison Lu in the second.
In spite of the fact that the Ephs ended up with four goals on the board, the Continentals looked the better side and had the better chances in the early-goings, and eventually they opened the scoring by way of Katja Dunlap.
The goal came from the scraps of a corner that Katie Kreider sent in from the right. The Eph defenders' initial attempt at a clearance didn't quite take the ball away from the danger area, ending up at the feet of Amanda Becker. As all the Ephs converged on the junior forward, she coolly picked out fellow junior Dunlap to her left, and with only Olivia Barnhill left to beat in goal, the Massachusetts-native expertly slotted her shot under the onrushing keeper's arms.
"We have a tendency to want to work ourselves into games, and see the space, before we get into space," remarked Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game when asked about Hamilton's strong start to the first half. "We play at a pace that teams can take advantage of at first. Hamilton is good, and so that is exactly what they did."
With their strong play rewarded, the Continentals looked to kick on from there, but the Ephs, taking their cue from their 15th-minute concession, quickly came to life and began to engineer a turn-around, resulting in a Turner-Wyatt leveling the score just seven minutes after the visitors' opener.
Also originating from a corner, Natasha Albaneze delivered a powerful cross into the box, which was initially repelled by a Continental defender; however, the attempted clearance fell to Turner-Wyatt on the edge of the 18-yard-box. The sophomore weighed her options, and ultimately decided to take the shot on herself, chipping her effort sensationally toward the top-right corner of the goal and just out of reach of Emily Dumont in net.
Riding the high of their equalizer, the Ephs wasted little time in taking the lead less than three minutes after Turner-Wyatt's goal.
Sarah Sciré led the Ephs in a counterattack after taking the ball off a Continental midfielder. The first-year looked to pick out the energetic run of her strike partner, Audrey Thomas, but a Continental defender was smart to the danger, deflecting Sciré's through ball away from the path of Thomas. However, in the process of doing so, she put it directly into the stride of Kirshe, who beat a path into the penalty area to thump a shot past Dumont, giving the Ephs the lead and tallying her record-tying 42nd career goal for the Ephs.
As the rain began to come down on Cole Field, the Ephs looked to take their one-goal lead into halftime, as they continued to build on their momentum with chance after chance for a third goal. However, just two minutes before the break, Jessie Murray found herself one-on-one with Barnhill with a chance to draw her side level.
Pressing the Eph back line, Murray took advantage of an inadvertent slip by Sarah Kelly on the newly wet surface. With just Barnhill to beat, however, the sophomore could not replicate Dunlap's clinical finish from earlier in the half, rolling her shot wide-right of Barnhill's goalmouth.
Probably feeling they should be level, the Continentals emerged from halftime trying to recreate their early first-half dominance, but the Ephs' depth and rotation began to take its toll, as the Ephs put their third goal of the game on the scoresheet in the 53rd minute.
Again from a corner, Albaneze fired a cross into the heart of the penalty area toward Sim, whose positioning was better than that of her defender's, latching onto the end of her fellow junior's cross and powering her header over Dumont's arms for her first goal of the year.
Eighteen minutes later, Lu polished off the scoring and put the decision beyond doubt with her 11th goal of the season.
Lu started the move that led to the goal, bending in a cross toward the back post from the right flank. No one could get on the other end of it, however, and Kirshe was forced to run downthe cross before it trickled over the end line. She was successful though, and then subsequently sent the ball back into the box toward the opposite post, where Lu, herself, was lurking to bundle the Ephs' 4th goal of the day over Dumont's line.
Permitting few chances to the Continentals to nick a goal back in the final quarter of an hour, the Ephs used their experience to shut down the game, and lock in their place in next Saturday's NESCAC Semifinal round, which they themselves will host by virtue of being the top seed in the NESCAC Tournament.
After the game, Pinard praised her team's depth as the catalyst for their performance both today, as well as similar performances all season.
"I think our depth plays a huge role," commented Pinard. "It's hard for teams to keep the same pace throughout a game, and we can because of our depth. When we can play at that tempo for 90 minutes, we're hard to handle…and it's an amazing energy boost to have everyone back on the field today too. It gives us another level of depth that makes us that much more dangerous for 90 minutes."
With the loss, Hamilton (5-8-3) conclude their season the way it started: on the wrong end of a 3-goal margin against the Ephs. On the other side of the coin, Williams (15-0-1) keep their unbeaten season alive with their 10th win in-a-row, and will play Trinity next Saturday at 11 AM EDT, when the three other remaining teams travel to Williamstown for the NESCAC Championship weekend.
"We love playing on Cole [Field], especially in the NESCAC Tournament," repeated Pinard multiple times after the game. "I'm thrilled for the team, and especially for the seniors. We've had a long run of success in our program, but they're really a big piece of our recent run. To see them have their final NESCAC Tournament on Cole Field means so much to me."