WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – In overtime, No. 4 Williams women's soccer (16–1–1, 8–1–1 in the NESCAC) defeated Tufts 2-1 this afternoon on Cole Field to win the 2017 NESCAC Championship, the eighth title in school history.
To qualify for the championship game, top-seeded Williams came back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to top No. 7 seed Amherst 4-2 in yesterday's first semifinal. In the second semifinal, No. 4 seed Tufts was down 2-1 at halftime versus No. 6 seed Hamilton, but the Jumbos rebounded to win 3-2.
The first half saw relatively few chances, as play was concentrated in the midfield. An athletic Tufts side's tight pressing limited Williams' attacking progress, as the Jumbos trapped players on the flanks and intercepted passes in the center of the field to deny the Ephs possession and territory.
The Jumbos played long passes to forwards Sophie Lloyd and Liz Reed, seeking to have attackers run onto the ball in Eph territory. Williams' back line, however, made several key tackles and tracked back to prevent aerial passes from leading to chances inside the 18-yard box.
Eph forward Natasha Albaneze '18 had the best opportunity of the period in the 13th minute, when she found space to shoot just beyond the left edge of the penalty area. Her curling effort bounced high off the left goal post and over the end line.
In the 21st minute, Reed put a hard shot on goal for Tufts, but goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill '18 made the save. Lloyd made a long run into the box in the 27th minute and set up midfielder Sarah Grubman with a chance. Grubman's shot, nevertheless, sailed over the crossbar.
Williams pushed forward toward the end of the period, and midfielder Victoria Laino '21 found herself with two shooting opportunities at the edge of the box, but both her attempts were narrowly off target.
The game remained scoreless at halftime, and the Ephs held a 4-3 edge in shots.
In the 56th minute, a long-distance effort from tri-captain Jacqueline Simeone '18 nearly snuck inside the near post, but Tufts goalkeeper Emily Bowers got a hand on the shot.
The Jumbos found a breakthrough in the 59th minute. Lloyd received the ball in space on a counterattack, and she played a pass forward for junior Alessandra Sadler. Sadler took a touch and chipped a shot past the keeper and into the net, putting Tufts up 1-0.
Minutes later, forward Sydney Jones '21 created a promising opportunity for Williams. Jones ran down the right side and picked out midfielder Aspen Pierson '21, who was unmarked near the penalty spot. Tufts defender Taylor Koscho slid across to block Pierson's shot.
Tufts continued to attack with the advantage, and the Jumbos' pace created difficulties on the counterattack. Eph tri-captain defender Danielle Sim '18 made an important tackle on Sadler in the 64th minute to prevent a scoring chance.
Williams equalized in the 81st minute. A crowd of players fought for the ball in the Jumbos' penalty area, and the ball fell to Eph midfielder Natalie Turner-Wyatt '19. Bowers saved a shot from Turner-Wyatt, but the ball bounced out to midfielder Victoria Laino '21, who sent the ball back in. Turner-Wyatt broke free on the left side of the box, and she slipped the second attempt inside the near post to knot the score at one.
Having gained momentum from the equalizer, the Ephs pushed forward in the final minutes of regulation. In the 82nd minute, Bowers was forced off her line to make a clearance. The ball fell to Albaneze, who had an open look, but Bowers came lunging across the box to keep the shot out.
Despite the increased intensity at the end of the half, the score remained 1-1 after 90 minutes. Williams had an 11-4 edge in shots in the second half.
The game went into sudden-death overtime, meaning the first team to score would win the game and lift the trophy.
Tufts had an opportunity less than three minutes into extra time, when Grubman found space to shoot near the edge of the box. Her attempt, however, carried over the bar.
Forward Alison Lu '20 notched the decider for the Ephs 4:30 into extra time. Albaneze made a run into the box and played a through ball to Lu, who calmly put her shot past the keeper and into the net.
Williams prevailed 2-1 to claim its eighth NESCAC title in school history and its seventh in the last 11 years.
The Ephs finished with a 17-8 shot advantage. Bowers made eight saves for Tufts, while Barnhill had two for Williams.
Head coach Michelyne Pinard commented on the conference title.
"Anytime you can win championships, it's a lot of fun," Pinard said. "This team believes in itself, and to have everything come together today and this weekend – it's a tough, grueling weekend – feels really good."
For the second straight game, Williams produced a second-half comeback victory, an accomplishment Pinard attributed to the team's determination.
"The toughness and resilience of this team complements everything we're doing," she said. "I think [the players] believe so much in what they're doing and each other, and that shows in games like these."
Pinard added that Tufts' organization was an obstacle limited Williams' attacking success early on and that winning the battle in the midfield was key to finding an offensive breakthrough.
"Tufts one of the most organized teams out there," Pinard said. "[The Jumbos] had numbers behind the ball and put pressure on the ball, which is not easy to do. We didn't get behind them too much, so the efficiency we had when we did in get behind was important."
"As soon as we broke their midfield pressure, I thought we could create something," she said in regards to Lu's goal. "Alison Lu is just a finisher. She's a goalscorer, and once she saw the goalkeeper make a decision, she put it away."
As conference champions, the Ephs secured an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Williams will learn its seeding and first-round matchup tomorrow during the NCAA Selection Show, which begins tomorrow at 1 p.m.