The women’s soccer team dropped its final regular season match to Bowdoin, 3-2, on Wednesday at Kraft Field in a preview of Saturday’s first-round playoff match. If this past game was any indication, Saturday’s match could be a 90-minute classic. The Jumbos ended their regular season with a 5-5-0 in-conference record and an 8-6-0 record overall.
The game started at a slow pace, with neither team getting a shot on goal in the first 10 minutes. In the 13th minute, the Polar Bears struck first. Junior Abby Einwag took the ball up the left sideline and found sophomore Jamie Hofstetter. Hofstetter had time to slide the ball past senior goalkeeper Kristin Wright to the far side to put Bowdoin up 1-0.
The Jumbos responded, outshooting the Polar Bears 8-4 in the first half and moving the ball well against Bowdoin’s tough defense. Rotating in forwards throughout the game, Tufts was able to take advantage of fresh legs and favorable matchups to keep the ball in their opponent’s territory.
“Our forwards this year are very athletic and very dynamic,” coach Martha Whiting said after the game. “They play off of each other well and are creating a lot of opportunities for themselves.”
This was evident with three minutes remaining in the first half, when the Jumbos were finally able to take advantage of their attack. Senior Amanda Neveu placed her corner kick in a crowd of players, forcing Bowdoin’s sophomore goalkeeper Bridget McCarthy to try and punch the ball out. But it skidded off her fingers, allowing freshman Robin Estus to finish and tie the game going into the second half.
Carrying over the momentum, the Jumbos came out strong in the second half, forcing the Polar Bears to play on their heels with an all-out attack.
“I think we are all starting to mesh,” junior defender Catharine Greer said. “Today, the whole team had a lot of energy, and we really came together.”
Senior tri-captain forward Anya Kaufmann almost put Tufts ahead in the 47th minute, but a diving McCarthy prevented Kaufmann from adding to her team-leading total. Eight minutes later, Bowdoin sophomore Kiersten Turner received a pass from senior Molly Popolizio and rocketed a shot on goal. Wright made the difficult save, but the rebound took a bounce in favor of the Polar Bears. Turner buried the ball into the empty net to give Bowdoin a 2-1 lead.
Continuing the back-and-forth theme of the game, Tufts responded by pressuring Bowdoin. In the 63rd minute, McCarthy went out of the 18-yard box to play a long pass, only to see freshman Jess Capone closing fast on her. McCarthy’s clear was knocked down by Capone, who deflected the ball to junior Victoria Stoj. With McCarthy out of position, Stoj calmly passed it into the net to tie the game at 2-2.
The final 25 minutes became physical, with both teams fighting hard for every 50-50 ball and the forwards continually pressing in hopes of pressuring the opponent’s backline into a costly mistake.
This strategy would ultimately work in Bowdoin’s favor in the 70th minute. After Tufts was unable to clear the ball, Bowdoin sophomore Audrey Phillips gathered the ball on the top of the 18-yard box and found herself with space. She took a quick dribble, scanned the field and unleashed a hard, left-footed line drive that settled into the opposite side’s bottom corner. Wright had neither the time nor the angle to make a diving attempt at the shot that capped off the scoring at 3-2.
“We gave them a little too much space to play with,” Whiting said of the goal. “Within 25 yards, we have to defend a little tighter. We held off too much.”
For the remaining 20 minutes, Bowdoin changed to a conservative defense to prevent any kind of counter-attack from Tufts. When the Jumbos were able to get the ball up the field, they were forced to the sidelines.
This worked in Bowdoin’s favor, as the Polar Bears relied on their tall, physical defenders to keep most of the Jumbos’ crosses from reaching their intended targets. For the final stretch of the game, Tufts – unable to penetrate the Bowdoin-filled 18-yard box – was left to fire shots from 20-plus yards out, doing little to challenge McCarthy.
Despite the loss, the Jumbos left the game knowing they will be able to compete with the Polar Bears in the playoffs.
“We have to play strong and not make the mistakes we made [yesterday],” Greer said. “It was evident that [even] with the mistakes they made, we were unable to finish.”
Tufts enters the NESCAC playoffs seeded No. 6, while Bowdoin has captured the conference’s No. 3 spot. The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Bowdoin advanced in penalty kicks after a double-overtime 0-0 tie in the 2008 quarterfinals. Saturday’s first-round match will be played at Bowdoin at 1:30 p.m.
Whiting’s mentality going into the playoffs is simple.
“Our goal is to play as many games as we can,” she said.