GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There may never have been a more fitting ending than the one fashioned by the Williams College women's soccer team Saturday night.
There stood senior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill in the steady pouring rain, peering in at Middlebury midfielder Clare Robinson. One penalty kick. Stop it and the Ephs are national champions. If you know Barnhill, you know the ending. Diving to her right, she got just enough of Robinson's shot to deflect it off the left post.
Game Over. Season Over. National champions once again. Two in a row, and three in four years. Williams became the first women's soccer team to repeat as national champions since 2011-12 when Messiah accomplished the feat. Officially, Saturday's title bout is a 1-1 win for the Ephs, with the deciding 3-2 score coming in PKs. The Ephs finish with a 19-1-4 mark while the Panthers completed their season at 19-2-3.
"So many thoughts are going through my head, but really just appreciation of this team and how hard they were willing to fight for this," Ephs' head coach Michelyne Pinard said. "Their evolution competitively though the season was incredible. It's really challenging to come off of a national championship and I think there were high expectations. When things weren't smooth right away, this team had an opportunity to fall apart and they didn't. They stayed tough, they stayed tight, they stayed together."
The Ephs received a goal from Aspen Pierson in the game's 28th minute. Sophomore Georgia Lord dribbled up the left side and sent a cross into the box. Ilana Albert one-touched it to the right side, where Pierson ripped a left-footed shot that was just out of the diving reach of Panther goalie Ursula Alwang on the right post.
Williams held that for the following 50 minutes, until an own goal by the Ephs tied the game at 1-1. An Eph defender looked to clear the ball from inside the six-yard goalie box, but her attempt deflected off Barnhill and trickled into the back of the net. Fueled by the equalizer, the Panthers buzzed around the Ephs goal for the final of 12 minutes in regulation, but Williams forced the game into overtime and gained back the momentum, outshooting the Panthers 5-1 in the extra time.
Early in the first overtime session, the Ephs had a pair of scoring threats, but Alwang punched a Liz Girvan shot over the crossbar and corralled the second one on a corner kick. The Panthers looked for the game-winning tally with just over a minute left, but Eliza Van Voorhis' shot went just wide of the far post. The Ephs then nearly won the game in the closing seconds of the first extra session, as a cross inside the penalty box found the feet of junior Sarah Scire, but Alwang raced out and deflected Scire's shot with her foot to send the match to a second overtime.
The game went to penalty kicks, a familiar place for the Ephs and Barnhill to be. Barnhill has had a solid career at Williams stopping penalties and Saturday's national championship game was no different. She saved the first shot she saw, and the third. Victoria Laino and Aspen Pierson made back-to-back penalty kicks, and after four kicks for each team the PK score was knotted 2-2.
First year Rain Condie took the Ephs' fifth kick and sent a beautifully placed ball along the ground into the lower-left hand corner of the goal. Barnhill then made her stop of Robinson's shot and the celebration began.
"It's pretty surreal to win back-to-back, and to have three of our four years be a national championship year," Barnhill said. "I think that's just a testament to my class, a testament to this program, a testament to this team and all our players. It's never guaranteed, it's never easy; it's ridiculously hard in fact. Every year we aspire to do this and we've been incredibly successful. I think it's because of how much this team wants to be together and wants to win together rather than for themselves. I will be eternally grateful to have had these four years with these people and this program."
POST-CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: Junior Sarah Scire (Wyckoff, N.J.) was named the Most Oustanding Offensive Player of the Final Four and junior Sarah Kelly (Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.) was selected as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player. They were both members of the All-Tournament team, along with sophomore midfielder Aspen Pierson (Framingham, Mass.) and sophomore midfielder Ilana Albert (Pittsfield, Mass.). Scire scored both goals in a 2-0 semifinal win over Christopher Newport University, while Pierson scored the Ephs' only goal in the championship game. Albert assisted on two goals, one of Scire's in the semifinals and Pierson's in the championship game.
The senior class of Olivia Barnhill, Lauren Brown, Natalie Turner-Wyatt, Sarah Hollinger, Kristina Alvarado, Dawn Penso, and Madison Feeney finished their careers with a record of 80-4-9, only the second class in the women's soccer program's history to reach the 80-win mark (Joining the Class of 2018). Their win percentage was a hefty .909. They were all three-time national champions. They played in 93 of a maximum possible 96 games and won two NESCAC Championships and three Little 3 titles.