Tufts moves onto NESCAC semifinals for first time since 2013

Tufts won its NESCAC quarterfinal matchup against Trinity 1–0 this past Saturday, banishing memories of its disappointing defeat at this same stage last year against the same opponent once and for all.

The match started out tentatively, with both sides conceding corners early on. Tufts slowly grew into the game, with the two first-year forwards Sophie Lloyd and Elizabeth Reed leading the front line with a high-pressure game that often unsettled Trinity.

The Jumbos’ maturity in the first ever playoff game was attributed to some good advice they received prior to the game.

“Before the game, several seniors came up to Liz Reed and I and said, ‘take all the pressure off yourself or how you’ve done in the season and about the past, just play this game how you’ve been playing, do what you normally do and have fun,’” Lloyd said. “It was really great to have the seniors come talk to us like that, so we just went into the game like we would any other game.”

The visitors’ best opportunity came in the 14th minute. The Bantams’ junior forward Shannon Kennedy split the Jumbos’ defense with a well-timed through ball, but sophomore midfielder Sarah Maloney expertly recovered  to get a block in to keep the match scoreless. In the 31st minute, Trinity first-year midfielder Cami Beath then dribbled her way through the Tufts defense, only for her shot to go just over the bar.

This was a wake-up call for the Jumbos, as they produced their best chance of the game in the 36th minute. Sophomore forward Paige Vigliotta made a turn and was through on the left flank. She crossed the ball into the middle of the box which was laid off by senior forward Margaret Zahrah to classmate and strike partner Mariah Harvey-Brown. However, Harvey-Brown slipped at the crucial moment and her shot went over the bar.

Tufts upped the tempo in the second half, outshooting Trinity 10–2 after the break. The first real opportunity of the second half fell to Reed, who dragged her shot just past the post in the 61st minute. This was followed by a flurry of shots by junior midfielder Sarah Grubman and sophomore midfielder Jenna Troccoli, both of whom were unable to find the back of the net.

Junior midfielder and co-captain Emma Ranalli explained that this was simply a case of Tufts needing to settle into their rhythm, given the high stakes of the occasion.

“It was just a comfort thing, we’re a pretty young team in the sense that we have a lot of young players getting time,” Ranalli said. “Even for us upperclassmen, it’s still nerve-wracking playing in the NESCAC tournament game — it could be our last game — there are all those nerves in it, so it just took us a couple of minutes to work those out and just kind of settle in and know that we can play soccer know that we can compete against any one and settle in our game.”

The Bantams altered their tactics slightly in the middle of the second half, opting on many occasions to play the ball high to test reigning NESCAC Player of the Week junior goalkeeper Emily Bowers. However, Bowers proved her worth to the team by often handling those shots with ease.

Bowers then turned provider in the 70th for the game’s winning goal. Launching the ball forward, the Trinity defense misjudged the flight of Bowers’ drop-kick. The ball fell kindly for Lloyd, who caught Trinity senior goalkeeper Julia Pitino out of position as Lloyd flicked the ball into the far corner of the net. This was Lloyd’s eighth goal of the season, placing her second in the NESCAC in terms of goals scored.

“Bowers just has amazing kicks, so I’m always looking out for it, if it’s going to bounce over the defender or if they’re going to misjudge it,” Lloyd said. “Right when I saw Liz on the defender, I thought that she might get a flick on it and I just started running. Honestly, nothing was going through my mind, which is like the best … When I’m just focused, I score.”

Tufts was given a chance to double its lead late in the second half. On 85 minutes, Harvey-Brown was tripped just outside the box. Ranalli stepped up to take the free kick, but it was comfortably caught by Pitino. The Jumbos were thus made to fight to the last minute to defend their lead. In the 89th minute, an uncleared ball fell to Beath, but her shot was blocked by Vigliotta as the Jumbos progressed to the NESCAC Semifinals for the first time since 2013.

According to coach Martha Whiting, such committed defending is what got Tufts to where it is today. Whiting highlighted that it was very important for the team to be able to defend from front to back if it was to have a good championship season.

“They’re tough, Mo [Maloney], [junior defenders] Jamie [Corley], Taylor [Koscho], Bowers — they’re tough girls and they would sacrifice their bodies and do what they need to do to get on the defensive side of the ball,” Whiting said. “They know each other so well now, having played together for 16 games and they’re peaking at the right time … sometimes defenders don’t get a lot of credit because they do their job quietly, there’s no real great stats being a defender, but they’re kind the unsung heroes of the whole team right now.”

Tufts, seeded fourth in the tournament, will play sixth-seeded Hamilton on Saturday for a place in the NESCAC Championship match hosted by Williams College. Earlier in the regular season, the Jumbos won 2–0 at the Continentals, with Grubman and Zahrah getting on the scoresheet. Hamilton had upset No. 3 Middlebury 1–0. Tufts will have to be at its best to find a way past senior goalkeeper Emily Dumont, who has let in just eight goals in 16 games this season. Dumont is second in the NESCAC with 69 saves, topping the conference with a .896 save percentage.

Ranalli warned that the team should take nothing for granted.

“We had a good result the first time, but a lot of things can change in half a season,” Ranalli said. “We’re expecting to see a different Hamilton than we did, and they got a good result against a very good team against Middlebury, and no way are we taking them lightly or looking past Saturday.”

Whiting added that Hamilton had come off a double-overtime draw the last time the two teams met, but circumstances would be different this time around.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they changed their system — they played with two in the midfield the last time we played, but I have a feeling that may change because we play with three in the midfield,” Whiting said. “I think that they’ve got a couple of good forwards that are really athletic and are starting to come on, so I think that’s something that we have to be really aware of.”

Whiting also brushed off the inexperience of her team in terms of semifinal matches.

“There’s more weight … but in reality, it’s the same game. We go out and do what we do day in, day out,” Whiting said. “Yeah there’s a little bit more import on the game, but if we treat it like we do any other game, prepare the same and we have the same routine, we come out with confidence I think that we’re feeling good that we’ve achieved enough this season to help us believe in ourselves.”

Williams plays defending champions Amherst, seeded seventh, in the other semifinal.