In what was perhaps their toughest test of the season thus far, the women’s soccer team went toe?to?toe with Williams on Saturday, ultimately falling to the No. 22 Ephs in gut?wrenching fashion, 3?2.
On paper, Saturday’s game, which featured the NESCAC’s top team facing off against the conference’s cellar dwellers, might have appeared to be a lopsided affair.
Williams has pounded NESCAC opponents all season long and deserved to be a heavy favorite heading into the match.
But the Jumbos, riding high, not having lost a game in their previous four contests, came into the event knowing they were better than what their record might suggest.
“There has definitely been a lot of frustration about our record this season, the injuries we faced in the beginning, and the restructuring process we had to go through,” sophomore midfielder Nikki Blank said. “Despite our record, everyone still has such a great energy right now, and we will continue to play with heart and dedication until the last whistle of the last game.”
Sure enough, the Jumbos came out of the gate with a fire and intensity that has not been seen yet this year.
In the first ten minutes, Tufts kept the ball on Williams’ side of the field, pounding the box and keeping the Ephs’ defense on their heels.
Their first real opportunity came in the 13th minute when a beautifully lofted corner kick deflected off of a few players in the box before landing in at the feet of freshman forward Allie Weiller.
Weiller set herself and rocketed a strike past the outstretched grasp of Williams keeper Hannah Van Wetter and into the back right corner of the net. The goal – Weiller’s third in the last four games – gave Tufts an early 1?0 advantage.
“We were all mentally prepared to have a tough game,” sophomore defender Catharine Greer said. “We came out very strong and it was an exceptional feeling to have scored the first goal of the game. It gave all of us great motivation to keep up our intensity and not back down.”
But good teams respond when faced with adversity, and that is exactly what Williams did after falling behind early. In the 22nd minute, Williams freshman Abby Morss capitalized on a mistake made by Tufts junior keeper Kristin Wright.
Attempting to fall on a ball that was rolling around in the box, Wright lost control of her grasp and Morss promptly made her pay, sticking her foot at Wright’s feet and depositing the ball into the back of the net to knot the game up at one apiece.
Less than six minutes later, Morss found herself in the right place at the right time yet again.
A corner kick that was initially blocked by Wright was deflected around in the box by a few players before landing at the feet of Morss, who was standing just a few feet in front of the net.
Morss calmly tapped the ball in, scoring her second goal in a span of roughly five minutes in similarly easy fashion.
The tally gave the Ephs a pivotal 2?1 lead, an advantage that they would take into the halftime break.
After a back?and?forth start to the second half, the Ephs appeared to put the game out of reach in the 78th minute, when sophomore forward Alison Magruder got behind the defense and finished a breakaway opportunity, giving Williams a commanding 3?1 lead.
But Tufts would not go down without a fight.
In the 86th minute, the Jumbos capitalized on their only corner kick opportunity of the second half.
Freshman defender Nicole Campellone served a perfectly lofted ball into the center, where junior forward Anya Kaufman was able to get a head on it and put the ball in the back of the net for her fourth goal of the season, pulling the Jumbos to within one.
“Our team can put up a good fight regardless of what our record is,” Greer said. “We now are just working together more as a unit and capitalizing on each of our players’ strengths.”
With their newfound life, the Jumbos picked up the ball and rushed it back to the center circle. Unfortunately, the late surge of momentum proved to be too little too late, as Williams was able to play keep?away for the last few minutes and the Jumbos walked off the field with a hard?fought, yet disappointing, 3?2 loss.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the loss, but it was great to see the team play with urgency,” Blank said. “To be able to put two goals away against a team that’s leading the league is always a good feeling. We need to take the energy and excitement from that game and bring it with us to play Hamilton.”
“I definitely think that the game against Williams was a good game for us, despite the outcome,” Greer added. “We still want to prove to every team in the NESCAC that we can compete with each team and that we do have the ability to win.”
Tufts fell to 3?6?3 on the year, and their record against NESCAC opponents dropped to a dismal 1?6?1.
But despite the disappointing mark, the Jumbos still have an opportunity to climb up the standings before all is said and done, as they close out the regular season with two home games against conference opponents Hamilton and Bowdoin.
“It’s definitely frustrating to have things come together a little bit later in the season,” Blank said. “But we’re still very optimistic with our ability, and the way that we’ve been playing shows that we can win these next two games against Bowdoin and Hamilton to get a spot in the NESCAC tournament.”