Lu's late goal keeps season alive as No. 24 women's soccer edges No. 5 MIT on penalties

Lu's late goal keeps season alive as No. 24 women's soccer edges No. 5 MIT on penalties

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Down a goal in the final minutes of regulation on Sunday, women's soccer needed a big goal and got one from Alison Lu '20.

"Alison Lu is at her best when the stakes are the highest," head coach Michelyne Pinard said of the senior forward, who previously scored the gamewinner against Amherst on Sept. 28. "So happy for her to have a moment like that after being injured for about a year and a half… And it just came at the perfect moment for us."

Lu ran onto a pass from forward Rain Condie '22 and beat the goalkeeper at the far post to tie the game 1-1 with just over three minutes remaining in the second half. After two scoreless periods in extra time, substitute goalkeeper Leyla Kamshad '23 made a save in the penalty shootout to take No. 24 Williams (10–5–3/6–3–1 in the NESCAC) past No. 5 MIT (20–1–3/10–0–0 in the NEWMAC) in the NCAA tournament.

"I know we can do anything, and I'm always reminded of that," said midfielder Mikayla Kappes '21, who scored the winning penalty in the shootout. "I remember even in the second half, when we were down 1-0, I was surprised that I was just enjoying the game still… I was not nervous. I think that's just kind of a testament to how much everyone believes that we can make it happen, and we did."

"Overall just so pleased with the team's grit," Pinard said. " This MIT team is one of the best teams I've seen in Div. III women's soccer."

MIT had entered the match having won 14 straight matches, including a 3-1 win over Williams on Oct. 13. The Engineers had not conceded a goal since Oct. 19 and had not lost since Sept. 3. The team's 20 shutouts led all Div. III teams during what had already become its most successful season in school history.

The hosts controlled much of the early possession, outshooting Williams 9-1 in the first half. MIT targeted forwards Karenna Groff, Montana Reilly and Allie Werner along the wings. In the fourth minute, senior midfielder Sophia Struckman, an Engineer tri-captain, played a through ball for Groff, who forced a save from goalkeeper Chelsea Taylor '22 at the near post.

Defender Nkem Iregbulem '20 prevented an MIT goal in the 11th minute, clearing the ball of the goal line after a corner kick. Struckman had a header from close range off a delivery from Emily Berzolla, but Iregbulem — a First Team All-NESCAC selection this year — reacted quickly to keep the match scoreless.

The best chance of the half came in the 44th minute, when MIT forward Chessa Hoekstra hit the near post with a shot after forward Claire O'Callaghan played her a through ball down the left wing.

The score was level at halftime, but Groff gave MIT the lead less than three minutes into the second half. Berzolla, the NEWMAC Athlete of the Year, won the ball in Williams territory and picked out Reilly on the right side of the box. Reilly beat a defender and sent a low cross to Groff, who shot first time and placed the ball in the bottom-right corner.

The two-time reigning national champions, however, did not go down without a fight, sending numbers forward in the final half hour of regulation. After Groff's goal, the Ephs outshot the Engineers 8-3 for the remainder of the second half.

"The Ephs will not go quietly into that good night," play-by-play commentator Chris Lynch said on several occasions, paraphrasing Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night."

"We were on our heels in the first half. We were hanging on," Pinard said. "I knew we had more in us. The adjustment at halftime was really just that we needed to read a little bit better. We saw the rhythm that they had. We could press a little bit higher. As soon as we started to do that, I think we got a little bit of a rhythm and were able to get behind them a little bit. As we did that, we gained confidence, and when this team is playing confidently, I think we can beat good teams like we did today."

Williams hit the post in the 82nd minute, when forward Claire Tolliver '23 sent a ball in from the left wing. Midfielder Georgia Lord '21 nearly got a foot to the ball, but it bounced through and off the outside of the post.

Lu nabbed the equalizer in the 87th minute. Tolliver played a long ball that the Engineers did not clear. Lord played it to Condie, who set up Lu for the score.

"It can be tough to bounce back from a goal, but we knew that we needed to settle down if we wanted to be successful," Taylor said. "We had to be able to work out of the back if we wanted any shot going forward. The goal we scored from Alison started all the way with Nkem making a huge tackle in the back so that we were able to transition."

MIT dominated possession in extra time, outshooting Williams 7-1 over the two additional periods. Taylor made 3 saves in extra time to keep the match level. She finished with 9 saves, and Castle had 4.

The Ephs saw an opportunity in the 97th minute, winning a free kick in a dangerous area. Midfielder Victoria Laino '21, the team leader in goals (8) and the NESCAC Player of the Year, stepped up to take the kick. She beat the defensive wall, but Lauren Castle saved for the Engineers.

With the match still level after extra time, it went to penalty kicks.

Pinard substituted Kamshad, who had not played since Oct. 19, in for Taylor for the shootout, and the first-year delivered, saving MIT's second attempt, a low shot from defender Stephanie Howe.

"It's a lot of pressure, but if you want it enough, you can fight through that pressure," Kamshad said after the match. "As a freshman, you just want to contribute to this team in any way you can, and today an opportunity fell in my path. And I was happy to give back to the team."

The Ephs converted all five of their shots from the spot to win the shootout 5-4 and advance to the third round of the tournament. 

"I think the team this year more than ever has shown tremendous resilience," said tri-captain defender Liz Webber '20. "I think we've shown how much we really care about both the sport and the team by how we continue to show up even when things get challenging, and honestly show up even more when things get challenging."

"I knew this team had something special in it the day after we lost at Middlebury in the NESCAC semifinals," Pinard said. "That practice was the most competitive, the most joyful, most spirited practice of our season. In that moment, I knew this team is capable of beating really great teams, like MIT. Not only are they capable of winning big games and going far, but I'll be honest, if my career had ended after that practice, I would've been content.

"Do I want to keep playing? Absolutely. Do I think this team can keep going? Absolutely. But really with the joy that this team's playing with, even though it's been so challenging, just means the world to me. I love them and just want to play as long as we can."

Williams will play the winner of a Sunday match between No. 13 Tufts and No. 4 TCNJ.

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