WILLIAMSTOWN, MA - The Ephs never scored more than three goals in a game during last year's national championship run. But they scored four in just the second half Wednesday on Cole Field to take a comeback victory in their season opener.
"That's really exciting to think about," head coach Michelyne Pinard said about the goal tally. "And it's a lot of young players contributing, so the firepower is exciting. Now we need to start firing on all cylinders and really moving the ball a little more effectively through the middle third, and I think we'll be able to pull teams apart."
Williams (1–0/1–0 in the NESCAC), the top-ranked team nationally, scored three times within a span of 10 minutes in the second half to win 4-2 over conference rival Hamilton (0–1/0–1 in the NESCAC), the eighth-ranked team in New England. Midfielder Victoria Laino '21 notched two goals for the Ephs, and substitute goalkeeper Chelsea Taylor '22 made four key saves in the second half. The game marked the debut for six Williams first-years, including Claire Tolliver '23, who scored in the 88th minute to put the game away.
It took well into the first half for either team to find real opportunities as Hamilton's high press disturbed Williams' attacking players. While the Ephs strung together longer spells of possession late in the half, with Liz Girvan '22 and co-captain Sarah Kelly '20 linking up often on the left side, the Continentals found some chances on the counterattack.
The visitors took the lead in the 38th minute, when defender Claire Kaplan's cross from a free kick found forward Hyla Mosher, who headed in from close range. Late in the half, Mosher used her speed to create some chances – including a shot that Tolliver cleared off the line – but the 1-0 scoreline held until the break.
"We're just slow because we're thinking through things," Pinard said after the game. "We're only seven practices in, so I'd predicted that, and I think we worked through and started to play at pace in the second half."
A spirited start to the second half led to chances for both squads, but Taylor – a sophomore from Westborough, Mass., making her collegiate debut as a halftime substitute – saved four Hamilton shots to keep it a one-goal game.
Ilana Albert '21 made a difference with her speed, and she found herself in space on the right edge of the penalty box in the 57th minute. Georgia Lord '21 got the ball to Albert, but the shot went wide.
The Ephs equalized in the 64th minute and took the lead just five minutes later. Laino leveled the match, converting a penalty after Avery Mohan '23 went down in the box. And Mikayla Kappes '21, from the left side of the box, drilled a first-time shot into the far corner after receiving a low cross from co-captain Erika Jung '20.
Laino extended the lead in the 72nd minute, but Hamilton clawed a goal back just seconds later. The Williams midfielder scored from close range after a cross wasn't cleared, before Hamilton forward Caroline Dawson headed in an early cross from defender Kristin Hughes.
The Continentals' press led to some chances for forward Cat Gambino and Ashlyn Gaulin, but the Ephs maintained their 3-2 advantage.
Tolliver extended that lead in the 88th minute to put the game out of reach. The first-year from Bozeman, Mont., out of IMG Academy, won the ball in the attacking third, and after Hamilton goalkeeper Caity Smith saved the first shot, Tolliver collected her own rebound and scored on an empty net.
"I was super excited," Tolliver said after the game. "I wasn't expecting it at all, so I was lucky, and my teammate played a great ball."
Tolliver, who started the game as a center back, was just one of six first-years who played for the Ephs. Jaquelin Nordhoff '23 and Emma Lynch '23 featured prominently in midfield, and Mohan, Jasmine Moore '23 and Mirabai Dyson '23 also saw action.
"Transitioning to the college game is not easy," Pinard said. "They've only been here a week, and I thought they did a great job. There's no doubt in my mind the sky's the limit for them and they're going to complement our returners in a wonderful way."
Hamilton had outshot Williams 5-2 in the first half, but the Ephs finished with a 16-13 shots advantage.
"Because our preseason is so short, and we get going right away, to be honest I feel like September is [about] building," said Pinard, who announced in July this season will be her last as the Ephs' head coach. "Today was about putting some pieces together. Hopefully we can build on that."
Williams returns to Cole Field on Saturday to take on No. 22 Tufts at noon.