GRANTHAM, Pa. — Forward Claire Tolliver '23 gave Williams an early lead, and No. 24 women's soccer outlasted No. 13 Tufts on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
A lively first 45 minutes saw the Ephs go ahead 2-1, and the halftime score held until the final whistle. Tufts forward Sophie Lloyd sent a shot on net in the final 10 seconds, but goalkeeper Chelsea Taylor '22 made the save to send the Ephs through to the Elite Eight. Making a quarterfinal appearance for the sixth straight year, Williams (11–5–3/6–3–1 in the NESCAC) will take on No. 1 Messiah (21–1–1/7–0–1 in the MAC) on Sunday.
"It was so helpful to go up on them, but we knew that they were getting on the board at any minute, and they did," head coach Michelyne Pinard said. "They are a great team, and I thought we got better as the game went on. Once we started to keep the ball it allowed us to prevent scary chances for them."
The Ephs and Jumbos had met on Sept. 7, with Williams prevailing 2-1 in Williamstown, but Tufts (14–4–2/7–2–1 in the NESCAC) had a strong run in conference play, finishing in a tie for first in the NESCAC regular season. Tufts' forward line — which featured First Team All-NESCAC selections Lloyd and Liz Reed — was among the most dangerous in the conference. The Jumbos' 21 goals in conference matches tied for the most in the NESCAC.
"We just focused on shutting down the forwards as best we could," defender Sarah Kelly '20 said. "We got lucky a couple times, and we have a really great keeper behind us — really great forwards and midfielders — just giving it our all and working really hard."
Tolliver struck for the Ephs in the eighth minute, using her speed to create a one-on-one opportunity. Defender Maria Chapman '22 played a long pass out of the back, picking out Tolliver upfield. Tolliver turned past her defender and, with Tufts goalkeeper Hayley Bernstein rushing out, she sent Bernstein the wrong way and calmly placed her shot into the bottom-right corner.
Tufts pressed high and won possession on a few occasions deep in Williams territory. In the 23rd minute, the Jumbos' pressing led to a scoring opportunity. Reed played midfielder Hannah Isenhart through on the left side of the penalty area, but without much of an angle, Isenhart sent her shot wide of the near post.
Williams limited Tufts' close-range chances for most of the match, forcing the Jumbos to settle for long shots.
The Ephs came close to scoring again in the 30th minute, with midfielder Emma Lynch '23 hitting the post with a shot. Forward Alison Lu '20 started the move, picking out Brianna Binder '22 on the left wing. Binder then sent a weighted pass forward to Lynch, who was making a run on the right side of the box. Lynch slid onto Binder's delivery and hit the near post.
Lu scored shortly thereafter in the 32nd minute. On a counterattack, Binder had a shot blocked, and the ball bounced back out to Lynch. Lynch played a ball back to Binder, who with her back heel tapped the ball ahead for Lu, who beat the keeper from close range.
It was Lu's second goal in as many games, as well as her 6th career goal in the NCAA tournament.
Reed responded for Tufts just over a minute later, however, cutting the deficit in half with a magnificent long-range strike. From just outside the penalty box, she curled a left-footed shot into the top-left corner to make it 2-1 Williams with 12:12 left to play in the period.
Shots finished 7-4 in the first half.
A scrappy second half saw few scoring opportunities. Tufts had 4 shots in the half, while Williams managed just 3 attempts. Williams played defensively with a one-goal lead, preventing Tufts from maintaining extended spells of possession.
Lloyd created a chance in the 82nd minute with some creative dribbling at the edge of the Williams penalty area. She picked out a teammate inside the box, but Kelly made a strong tackle to break up the move.
With less than 10 seconds remaining, Lloyd had one last shot for Tufts, but Taylor reacted quickly to make the stop at the far post.
"Something that we talk about a lot as a team is just controlling the things you can control," said tri-captain defender Liz Webber '20. "And against a new team or a team you've played before, something we knew we could control was our energy, how much we brought it, and how much we really fought during the game… We've been working really hard this whole season, and it was a matter of time before things started to click. We were a half step off, or a half second off for weeks and weeks, and I think we've hit our stride and certainly in the right moment."
"I just think that the tournament has been pushing us and really bringing out the best in our team," Kelly said. "We always knew we could achieve this. It's just now coming out at the right time, and we're all really excited to continue to move forward."
Williams and Messiah will kick off at 1 p.m. Sunday. The top-ranked Falcons have won 11 straight matches.
"We're really excited to make it back to the Elite Eight this year," Kelly said. "We just want to go out and give it our all tomorrow, and that's all we can hope for. Obviously this year has been one filled with challenges, and … we want to rise and continue to push ourselves in the tournament."
"To be able to play Messiah in the Elite Eight is just an awesome opportunity," Pinard added. "Talk about quality Div. III soccer and the opportunity to showcase all the hard work that these women do and the ability they have — it's really fun to be part of it."