Jumbos finish regular season with tough consecutive losses

After a windy Saturday away game against an undefeated Williams that ended in a 2-0 loss, Tufts looked to its final game of the regular season to secure a higher seed in the NESCAC tournament, but fell to Bowdoin 3-2. Defeats against the top two NESCAC teams in the final two games of the regular season leave the Jumbos at 6-7-2 on the season and 4-5-1 in the conference, just behind Middlebury for the 7th seed going into the tournament.

It was an early onslaught on Tuesday against Bowdoin. Tufts’ defensive lapses led to two shots in the early minutes that were saved by first-year goalie Emily Bowers, who ended the game with a remarkable 12 saves. Bowdoin eventually pulled ahead with a slip in midfield that led to a run down the right. The goal resulted from a combination of perfectly timed plays from Bowdoin; senior midfielder Jamie Hofstetter received a cutback pass, then delivered a beautiful arc pass to the top of the box to classmate midfielder Maggie Godley, who fired a dipping shot into the upper right corner that left Bowers with no chance.

Down a goal, the Jumbos began to push aggressively for an equalizer. Senior co-captain center-back Nicole Campellone thwarted the Polar Bears’ defense through balls over the top again and again, and did well to step in front of balls up to the strikers and clear; her level of physicality set a precedent for the rest of her team. Conversely, control in the midfield was lacking, with many clearances simply ending up back in Bowdoin’s possession.

Junior forward Jess Capone offered options up front, cutting in and testing the Bowdoin keeper, but it was off first-year midfielder Emma Ranalli’s free kick that the equalizer was scored. A foul just outside the box led to another dangerous long shot from Ranalli that was pushed onto the crossbar, but first-year midfielder Sarah Grubman was there to deflect the ball into the back of the net.

Bowdoin’s lead would regain the lead before halftime, with four corners in as many minutes allowing Bowdoin to score. With eight seconds left on the clock, the ball fell to Godley, who once again shot from the top of the 18-yard box, this one dipping over Bowers’ head into the top left. 

The second half saw Tufts midfield forcing long clearances that allowed Bowdoin to get free runs down the sidelines or in on goal.

“Against a team like Tufts, we knew they were going to play physical and press us hard,” Bowdoin coach Brianne Weaver said. “We knew we had to control possession and take the chances that came to us — whether they come from set pieces or from open play.”

A corner won by first-year forward Julia Patterson led to the third Bowdoin goal. The ball was headed into the six-yard box and was tapped in by Hofstetter, essentially sealing the result for the visitors with a 3-1 lead. 

Tufts continued to pressure, shifting the back line forward and sending numbers into Bowdoin’s half, catching many Bowdoin players offside with their high positioning. Many chances were stopped short by the Bowdoin keeper, who had six saves of the day, but Tufts’ mounting pressure finally led to another Grubman goal in the final minute of play — this time off a cross punched out not quite far enough by the keeper — for a final score of 3-2.

Last Saturday, the Jumbos travelled to Williamstown, Mass. as the underdogs against the No. 4 Ephs, who, coming into the game, were a perfect 8-0 in the NESCAC, and 12-0-1 on the season. The Jumbos started the game shakily, and the Ephs pressed mercilessly until just under five minutes in, when first-year striker Kristina Alvarado danced down the right side and played a ball into junior forward Kristi Kirshe. Her first shot was saved well by Bowers, but was unable to corral the rebound, which Alvarado slotted in with ease, making Williams’ early dominance evident on the scoreboard as the hosts pulled ahead 1-0.

The goal made the Jumbos’ defense find their rhythm. Tufts’ back line, anchored by Campellone and junior back Alexa Pius, repeatedly broke up dangerous attacks headed by Williams senior midfielder Mai Mitsuyama and Alvarado. The defense was aided by several excellent saves from Bowers, who ended the game with six.

The Jumbos started to pressure Williams’ goal late in the half, with sophomore forward Alex Scheman’s fierce shot forcing the keeper to palm the ball over the bar for a corner kick. A few minutes later, Grubman put another shot on target, only to have it saved by the keeper.

The tone of the game changed in the second half. After initial scoring pressure, again, from Alvarado and Mitsuyama, Tufts came out and pressured the ball hard, not giving much time on possession, which led to sloppy turnovers that created chances for the visitors. Ranalli unleashed a booming shot from distance, only to see it barely deflected onto the crossbar by the Williams keeper. Just a few minutes later, sophomore midfielder Chandler Quintin hit a shot almost identical to Ranelli’s, which hit the inside lip of the crossbar and bounced down for junior striker and leading scorer Capone, who struck the rebound over the top of the net.

“Especially early in the second half, it felt like we were going to score,” Ranalli said. “You could tell they were taken aback and you could tell they were nervous. It was exciting to be competing with a team that we knew was as good as Williams is. Of course, it’s frustrating for shots not to go in, but we just have to keep shooting.”

Williams pulled further ahead when Alvarado powered a rolled cross into the roof of the net. Tufts ended the game with six shots on target compared to Williams eight. The Jumbos have struggled to score all season, with many games ending 1-0, 0-0 or 1-1.

“It’s strange to say, but we played well against Williams,” Tufts coach Martha Whiting said. “Our back line was strong, we defended aggressively. As a coach, you worry if the [scoring] opportunities stop coming. We’re getting them, they’ll end up in the back of the net eventually. We haven’t played our best recently, and it’s frustrating, but we have to move forward.”

The Jumbos will have a rematch with the Polar Bears on Saturday at the NESCAC tournament. This time, Tufts will travel to Maine to face Bowdoin, who will enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed. Williams lost to Middlebury, ending their undefeated season, but they will still go into the tournament as the No. 1 seed.

“Everybody is 0-0-0 in the tournament, and we know we have to play our best soccer yet,” Whiting said. “We’re getting better, coming together more as a team, and I anticipate us making a good run.”