WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass - After each team's opening-round win on Cole Field on Saturday, the Wentworth Leopards faced off against the hosts, the Williams College Ephs, on Sunday afternoon for a coveted 3rd-Round spot, to be played next weekend.
Like on Saturday, the home side dominated the possession, but it took them until the second half to finally make the breakthrough against their resolute opponents, with the match ultimately finishing 1-0 in favor of the Ephs, as they progressed for the 4th straight season to the 3rd Round of the NCAA Tournament.
The game's lone goal came from the Ephs' leading scorer, Alison Lu, as she dispatched her 12th goal of the season into the back of the net in the 68th minute.
The move started in the midfield as Kristina Alvarado carried the ball forward in attack, eventually finding the feet of Kristi Kirshe at the top of the Leopard penalty area, who breached Wentworth's back-line with a beautiful first-time through-ball to match the run of Lu. The first-year effortlessly slipped between a pair of defenders, and slotted the ball past Micaela Robinson in net to give the Ephs their deserved breakthrough.
"It was pure joy," sighed Lu in her post-game press conference, as a smile spread across her face. "I looked to Kirshe, and just gave her a really big hug."
"Scoring goals is hard," reflected Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game. "We're trying to win games, and we don't really care how we win. We just want to be on the right side of the result."
Though they eventually got their goal and ended up on the right side of the result, the Ephs worked without reward in the first 45 minutes for the third game in-a-row.
The Ephs got off to a good start out of the gates, creating a chance that almost paid off in just the 4th minute.
After a strong build-up through the midfield, Natasha Albaneze took the ball to the end-line and sent a low cross into the center of the penalty area to the feet of Audrey Thomas, who toe-poked a shot toward goal that required a save of moderate difficulty from Robinson.
Ensuring that they were not overwhelmed by the Eph pressure, the Leopards orchestrated a chance of their own on the counterattack.
Amanda Weinberger raced past her defender on the right flank, creating a two-on-one opportunity against Eph defender Katelyn Long. The sophomore did her best to control the situation, forcing Weinberger into shooting toward goal, instead of laying off to her fellow Leopard, and the Ephs' goalkeeper, Olivia Barnhill, was equal to the effort.
The next goal-scoring chance fell to the Ephs, as the purple and gold won a corner in the 17th minute, and they thought they had opened the scoring until the referee's whistle blew for a foul. Albaneze had delivered the ball from the left corner, arcing the ball directly into the back of the net, but the referee blew her whistle for an Eph attacker pulling Robinson's jersey, preventing the keeper from making the save.
Twelve minutes later, the Ephs had shaken off the disappointment of the disallowed goal, as Kirshe almost opened the scoring herself.
Lu rose to meet a cross from the right with her head, nodding it down toward Kirshe at the top of the area, for the senior to half-volley her shot agonizingly off the crossbar and away from the goalmouth.
The final chance of the half came with two minutes left on the clock.
The architect of the Ephs' eventual goal, Kirshe, played a well-weighted through-ball, carving apart the Leopards' back line and running straight into the path of Alvarado, who then flashed her shot across the face of goal and just wide of the post.
The Ephs picked right back up in the second half where they had left off in the first, and had a handful of chances to score before the goal finally came 22 minutes into the second 45.
The best of the chances before the goal fell to Sarah Sciré, who received the ball on a platter from her teammate Thomas, after Natalie Turner-Wyatt had picked out the senior forward near the end-line. With the goal at her mercy, the first-year couldn't keep her first-time effort down, causing her to pound the ground in frustration.
Eight minutes later, however, all was forgiven, as Lu's close-range finish past Robinson gave the Ephs the lone goal of the afternoon and put all the missed chances before out of the Ephs' minds in favor of the first-year's second goal in the last month.
With 20 minutes on the clock to find an equalizer, the Ephs wisely opted to hold onto the ball and shut down the game, rather than recklessly seek a second goal, providing the Leopards with very little in the way of chances to level the score and force overtime.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, however, Evan Gancedo had a chance to double the Ephs' lead and put the game to bed.
The junior controlled the ball in the penalty area, and absorbingly glided past a pair of defenders with beautiful skill, but the Williams #10 couldn't keep her shot down, drilling her attempt over Robinson's bar.
It mattered very little when all was said and done though, as the full-time whistle rang out, and the Ephs secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament 3rd Round to be held next Saturday after recording their 13th clean sheet of the season on Sunday.
"As a defender, I'm always so nervous when we're tied or when we're down a goal," spoke Danielle Sim on her defensive unit's 13th clean sheet of the season. "It is helpful to have the ball in our offensive end, like today, where you can see the ball and everything is in front of you."
Pinard took a slightly different approach to talking about what fellow coach, Sarah Raymond, has accomplished in her first season working with Sim and the entire defensive side of the Ephs' game, praising and crediting everything that has been done to the Australian native: "[Coach Raymond] is our defensive mastermind. Our defense is suffocating other teams' attacks, and that is all thanks to Coach Raymond. Dani [Sim] may be a little nervous on the inside, but we have the utmost confidence in her and the rest of our defenders."
With the loss, the Wentworth (16-4-3) conclude their laudable season, making it to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament after winning the CCC Tournament.
With the win, Williams (17-0-2) continue their unbeaten season, rolling into the NCAA Tournament 3rd Round, where they will face the winner of the contest between Johns Hopkins and Christopher Newport at a to-be-determined location next Saturday. The time and location of next weekend's game will be decided on Monday.
"The thing I love about this team is we always want to get better," answered Pinard when asked about what her team can do moving forward. "We walk off the field saying, 'We did it; we won; we're moving on,' but then work just as hard to get better the next week in training."