MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – No. 4 women's soccer (11–0–1, 7–0–1 in the NESCAC) topped Wesleyan 1-0 this afternoon to take this year's Little Three title.
Wesleyan entered the game with a 0.63 goals against average, and the Cardinals curtailed the Ephs' normally high-powered offense. Center back Liz Webber '20 helped distribute to attackers on several long passes, but the Ephs were unable to get past the Wesleyan back line.
The Cardinals kept the ball well at the start of the game and began to get forward midway through the half. In the 25th minute, Wesleyan defender Julia Meehan snuck past her marker on the right wing and sent a cross into the penalty area. Kayla O'Brien connected on the header, but her shot went wide. Forward Liz Young also created first-half opportunities for the home side.
In the 28th minute, O'Brien was fouled by Sarah Kelly '20 in the box, and the referee signaled for a Wesleyan penalty kick. Defender Kinsey Yost took the spot kick, but Williams goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill '19 guessed correctly and dove to make a spectacular save. Barnhill smothered the rebound, and the game remained scoreless until halftime.
Wesleyan outshot Williams 7-3 in the half and had an advantage in possession after the opening minutes. Barnhill made three saves in the first half, and Zoe Cassels-Brown had three stops for the Cardinals.
Midfielder Aspen Pierson '21 made her season debut as a substitute in the 36th minute. All six first-years have now seen playing time this season for the Ephs.
Head coach Michelyne Pinard said her team needed some time to adjust to playing conditions in the first half.
"Playing a game after being on a bus for 2.5 hours is not easy," Pinard said. "[Jackson Field] is also pretty different from ours. It's a lot shorter. so we had to get used to the space, and it took us a little time to do that."
Williams, however, found a breakthrough less than a minute after restart. Natasha Albaneze '18 played a corner kick to tri-captain Jacqueline Simeone '18, who hit the ball first-time. Simeone's shot sailed over the head of the goalkeeper and into the net.
It was the first goal of the season for Simeone, who overcame an injury in the season opener to become a key contributor on the right side of the field. The goal shifted the momentum of the game, and the Ephs found themselves with a 1-0 lead despite the Cardinals' strong first half.
The Ephs started to take control of the possession battle and saw chances to extend the lead while keeping the Cardinals off the ball. Albaneze and Sarah Scire '20 both forced saves from Cassels-Brown early in the second half.
Wesleyan did not record its first shot of the second half until the 80th minute, when Lauren Goetzman and Emily Ribatt each had their shots blocked by Williams defenders.
Sydney Jones '21 provided Williams with a chance at an insurance goal in the 86th minute. Jones made a deceptive move on the right wing and dribbled past a defender. She sent a cross in, and the ball bounced dangerously around until Katelyn Long '19 managed a shot on goal, saved by Cassels-Brown.
The Ephs held their 1-0 advantage to the final whistle. Williams had a 9-2 second-half lead in shots and a 12-9 edge for the entire 90 minutes. Barnhill finished with three saves, while Cassels-Brown totaled seven.
Pinard said after the game that Barnhill's penalty kick save was a turning point of the game.
"Liv is incredible, and that save was huge," Pinard said. "It would've been a really long day if that had gone in. I'm super appreciative of Liv's skillset, and she's proven her worth time and time again. It was a turning point for us and started to lift us to play more urgently."
Pinard was pleased with her team's improvement after halftime.
"We had to figure out how to manage their man-marking in the midfield," she said. "Once we started playing more quickly and moving off the ball – which we talked a lot about at halftime – we were able to pull them apart a little bit. I thought our second half was excellent.
"In the first half we were defending more than we typically do. [The Cardinals] were on the ball more, and it was good for us to have to defend in our back half. We got better as the game went on."
With today's win, Williams secures the Little Three title, having defeated Amherst 3-2 on Sept. 23. Pinard said the distinction fulfilled one of the team's goals for the season.
"Any sort of championship matters to us," she said. "Winning the Little Three was one of our goals, and it feels good to have accomplished it. Wesleyan is a good team and really tough at home, so I'm thrilled with the result."
After the team's strong start to the season, Pinard said she has been pleased with the players' continued effort in a difficult part of the season.
"The middle of October is challenging. You're six weeks in, and fatigue and injuries start to set in. Mid-terms start to set in. We're staying tuned in, and we're continuing to strive to improve. The team is excited for every game, and I think that shows."
Williams visits Springfield, a team with an 11–2–0 record, tomorrow at noon.