Game Day: Ephs battle rival Middlebury for Div. III national championship

Game Day: Ephs battle rival Middlebury for Div. III national championship

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This time for all the marbles. 

The Williams College women's soccer team (18-1-4) has faced NESCAC rival Middlebury (19-1-3) twice already in 2018 and 53 times since 1979, but never have the stakes been as high as today when the two teams face off on the pitch at UNC-Greensboro's Soccer Stadium for the 2018 Div. III national championship.

Game time is 7 p.m. You can watch the game and follow the Live Stats HERE.

The Ephs and Panthers split a pair of 1-0 decision this season, with the Ephs triumphing on Cole Field in the regular-season finale for both teams, and the Panthers taking the NESCAC Tournament championship game by a one-goal margin in a game played at Farley-Lamb Field. Williams, the defending national champions, will be playing in its fourth national championship game over the last five years. The Panthers are making their first appearance in the national title game in program history.

"Middlebury is just an incredible rival for us," Ephs' head coach Michelyne Pinard said, "and a positive rival for us, they make us better. We love the opportunity to be pushed beyond our comfort zone and they do that for us. So we're excited for the opportunity to do that in the national championship game, it's going to be incredible. They are a really organized, tactically sound team that we're going to have to figure out how to break down."

Middlebury knocked off No. 1 and previously unbeaten University of Washington in St. Louis Saturday, 1-0, in the first semifinal Friday. The Panthers are 4-0-1 in the tournament prior to today's clash with the Ephs and have not allowed a goal since a 4-1 win over UMaine-Farmington in a first round game. They have outscored their opponents 8-1 in tourney play and 51 to 10 for the season. 

The Ephs advanced with a 2-0 win over Christopher Newport University in the second semifinal last night, snapping the Captains' 16-game win streak in the process and handing CNU its first shutout of the 2018 season. Williams has outscored its opponents 7-2 in its five previous tournament games this year and 37-11 on the season. 

Each team's only loss of the season is to each other. Williams defeated the Panthers on Cole Field, winning a 1-0 affair in the regular-season finale on Oct. 23rd, which gave them the right to host the conference tournament as long as they won the quarterfinal. That set up Middlebury's second visit to Williamstown, this time on Farley-Lamb Field, where the Panthers won 1-0 in the championship game of the NESCAC Tournament on Nov. 4. 

The Panthers are led by junior goalkeeper Ursula Alwang, who is 15-0-3 on the year with a .903 save percentage and a 0.37 goals against average. Senior midfielder Clare Robinson and senior defender Janie DeVito were named All-Americans earlier this week. 

A total of 15 different players have scored in a very balanced Middlebury attack this season, with the Panthers averaging 2.35 goals per game. The Panthers have seen 27 different players in the starting lineup over the course of the year. Sophomore Eliza Van Voorhis has produced eight goals this fall and 20 points to lead the Panthers. The forward has three game-winning goals scores, tying her atop the team with junior Sabrina Glaser. Sophomore Eliza Robinson's seven assists pace the team while she owns six goals for 19 points. Robinson posted a season-high four points with a goal and two assists in the NCAA Regional win over Maine-Farmington, assisting on the game-winning tally. The midfielder also scored the lone goal during Middlebury's NESCAC Quarterfinal win at home over Bowdoin. Sophomore Simone Ameer scored the Panthers' lone goal in the win over Wash.-St. Louis yesterday.

Williams has allowed only 11 goals all season. Like Middlebury, the Ephs had two players -- junior defender Sarah Kelly and sophomore forward Sydney Jones -- named All-America Thursday night at the NCAA National Championship Banquet. But the Ephs defensive effort is anchored by Olivia Barnhill between the pipes. She has a 58-2-7 career record at Williams and this season has a 0.43 goals against average and an .885 save percentage. Of course the work of every player in front of her is critical, with Kelly, Maria Chapman, Nkem Iregbulem and Liz Webber playing prominent roles in the back. 

Of course, Pinard has always coached team defense throughout the field, so midfielders Sarah Scire, Victoria Laino, Brown, Aspen Pierson, Liz Girvan, Ilana Albert, Mikayla Kappes, Erika Jung, Penso and Rain Condie will be counted on throughout the night. Anyone of those players could also put the ball in the back of the net of course. The Ephs have had 15 different goal scorers this season, with Sarah Scire having 14 points and Georgia Lord and Pierson each having 10 points heading into tonight. Forward Kristina Alvarado scored the game-winning goal in the Ephs' first national championship, a 1-0 win over Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. And senior forward Sarah Hollinger has scored her first two career goals this season. First year Brianna Binder scored the game-winner in a 2-0 win over the University of New England in the first round of the tournament, and she has played forward, midfield and back in the same game during the Ephs' tourney run. 

The Eph senior class, --  Barnhill, Brown, Hollinger, Alvarado, Dawn Penso, Natalie Turner-Wyatt and Madison Feeney -- are 79-4-9 (.909 win percentage) over their four years and are making their third appearance in the NCAA Div. III Tournament's Final Four in four years. They have also won two national championships, including last year at UNCG Stadium when they defeated the University of Chicago, 1-0.