WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - After last weekend's NESCAC Tournament disappointment, falling in a penalty shootout to the eventual runners-up, the Ephs were back in action this weekend in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, as they began their journey in the NCAA Tournament to repeat as National Champions.
They welcomed three other teams to Cole Field on Saturday, and themselves faced off against the Blazers of Elms College, who won the NECC Tournament last weekend, defeating Lesley in the Championship game.
After over an hour of frustration, the Ephs finally exploded for three second-half goals to take the contest by a 3-0 margin, finally converting first thanks to a wonderful finish by Evan Gancedo.
After Audrey Thomas was fouled on the right side of midfield, Natasha Albaneze drifted the free kick into the penalty area, where Thomas used her impressive close-control to bring the ball down. With a hoard of both green and white shirts around her, she found Gancedo with a tidy tapped pass to the right side of the area, where the junior struck her shot first time, arrowing her finish across the face of goal and into the left corner.
The Ephs' second goal came 11 minutes later, from the foot of Kristina Alvarado.
After finally breaking down the otherwise perfect Elms offside trap, Alvarado was unleashed on the left side of the penalty area. The sophomore cut inside onto her stronger right foot, held off a defender, and absolutely belted a curling effort into the top-right corner of Rebecca Molin's goal.
Before the Blazers could recover from their second concession of the afternoon, the Ephs had their third through Natalie Turner-Wyatt.
The sophomore midfielder collected a recycled cross with which no Eph or Blazer could connect. Dribbling toward goal, Tuner-Wyatt surveyed her options, and ultimately decided to belt the ball toward goal. Under pressure from an on-rushing Alison Lu, Molin finally was forced into a mistake on what was otherwise a sparkling performance, as the Williams #19's considerable effort ended up in the back of the net, finishing off the Ephs' win with a flourish and confirming their spot in Sunday's 2nd round.
Though the Ephs eventually rattled off 3 goals in the second half, the first half was much more frustrating for the purple and gold.
The Ephs came out of the gates and contacted the woodwork twice in the first ten minutes.
The first time came in just the 2nd minute, when Gancedo slid Thomas through on goal on the left side of the Blazer penalty area. The senior forward collected the pass, juked a defender, and then fired a shot at goal, that caromed off the crossbar instead of finding the back of the net.
Five minutes later, it was Gancedo's turn. An Albaneze cross rattled around the 18-yard-box for a few seconds, before Gancedo popped up and volleyed a shot toward the left corner of goal, but the Ephs again were denied by the woodwork, as the junior's effort hit the base of the post.
The Blazers eventually created a pair of chances thanks to an effective high press, forcing the Ephs into several dangerous turnovers in their own defensive-third. However, on each occasion, the Eph defensive trio of Danielle Sim, Sarah Kelly, and Katelyn Long recovered quickly enough to prevent any Blazer shot toward Olivia Barnhill's goal.
As the first half wound down the Ephs asked four saves of Molin and her defensive unit.
In the 38th minute, Kristi Kirshe drove at the Blazer backline, and played Alvarado clean through on goal. The scorer of the Ephs' second goal of the day could not convert this time, however, as Molin was equal to her blast on target.
Less than a minute later, Jacqueline Simeone delivered a corner from the left flank, and both Lu's shot and Kirshe's follow-up were cleared off the line by a pair of Blazer defenders to keep the game scoreless for the time being.
The final chance of the first half was again orchestrated by Kirshe, who this time threaded a through ball for Lu to gallop onto and strike toward goal, but again Molin would not be beaten, parrying the first-year's shot away from goal.
The ref's halftime whistle finally rang out, and when the two teams returned to the field, the Ephs continued to look dangerous, with their pressure finally paying off after the hour mark, when they converted three of their many chances to secure the win.
With the defeat, the NECC Champions, Elms' (18-4-1) impressive, conference-winning season finally came to a conclusion.
With the win, Williams (16-0-2) remains undefeated on the season and advances to the NCAA Tournament 2nd Round, where they will play the winner of Wentworth and Arcadia, who are the second 1st Round game of Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 1 PM EST on Sunday.