Women’s Soccer: Tufts falls to top-seeded Williams in NESCAC final

Midfielder Sophie Lloyd, '21, prepares for a pass in the women's soccer home game against Lesley in Kraft Field on Oct 17. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

This weekend, the women’s soccer team reached the NESCAC final for the first time since 2005 with a 3–2 semifinal victory over Hamilton on Saturday in Williamstown, Mass. Unfortunately, the fourth-seeded Jumbos fell 2–1 to the top-seeded Ephs of Williams on their home turf the next day in an intense overtime battle.

Although the Jumbos defeated the sixth-seeded Continentals 2–0 on Oct. 8 on their turf in Clinton, N.Y., going into the semifinal round, they knew that this time around might not be so simple.

“Of the three teams remaining in the NESCAC draw, we thought we had a good match up with Hamilton,” coach Martha Whiting said. “But the last time we played them, they were just coming off a double overtime game the previous day, so they were probably exhausted. And, we didn’t get a shot off them in the second half of that game. We knew they were a solid team and that they probably didn’t have their best showing during our first game, so we were ready for a battle.”

The Continentals are known for modifying their formation, so the Jumbos were prepped for their opponents to use two different types of formations, but knew they would stay put with theirs.

“Our team plays best when we stick to what we know, so we focused on our own style of play,” Whiting said.

The Jumbos’ 3-5-2 formation, consisting of three defenders, five midfielders and two strikers executed even under the pressure of a 1–0 deficit only 39 seconds into the first half. Hamilton senior midfielder Katja Dunlap passed to senior forward Katie Kreider who finished the play with a quick shot into the lower-right corner of the goal.

“They were very dangerous in the first half, and obviously, being scored on in the first 40 seconds isn’t ideal,” junior goalkeeper and recent NESCAC Women’s Soccer Player of the Week Emily Bowers said. “But afterwards, we got in our huddle, and joked about it to shrug it off. We were saying, ‘We have 89 minutes and 20 seconds to win this game.’ We couldn’t have started worse off, but we could only go up from there.”

And that they did, with first-year forward Sophie Lloyd tying up the game at 20:06. Fellow classmate forward Liz Reed took the ball out of the corner and slipped, causing the ball to skid toward Lloyd who beat two defenders and got just enough space to take a perfectly placed shot off her left foot from right above the top of the 18-yard box, tying up the score.

The Continentals took the lead again at 34:24 when Dunlap received passes from first-year forward Cat Gambino and junior forward Jessie Murray and scored off Bowers.

During halftime, there was no motivating speech or change in momentum; for the Jumbos, it was only a matter of staying focused and executing what they knew they were capable of.

“We were attacking with numbers, we were playing well, so I told them to just stick to the game plan and maybe turn up the energy just a bit,” Whiting said. “They’re a very confident group; there was never a moment where they felt like they weren’t going to score. It’s great to have a group that believes so much in their capabilities, because that’s probably 90 percent of the game.”

A punt from Bowers allowed Reed to use her speed to get hold of the ball and get it between defenders and past the keeper at the 64:38 mark. With two defenders following her and senior goalkeeper Emily Dumont coming out of the net, Reed maintained textbook composure.

Soon after, the first-year duo of Reed and Lloyd connected to score the team’s final goal and Lloyd’s 10th of the season at 70:34. Lloyd is now ranked second for goals in the NESCAC.

“[Lloyd] is a very athletic, smart player. She has an intangible grit about her and she cannot be denied. When she loses the ball, she wins it back. She has a knack for getting the ball where it need to be,” Whiting said.

As soon as the excitement of making the NESCAC final set in, the Jumbos realized they had less than 24 hours to recover.

“The hotel was only 10 minutes away, so we could head straight back and just rest,” junior forward Alessandra Sadler said. “Some girls dumped ice into the hotel tubs to make ice baths, we had a bunch of rollers, and luckily we had an extra hour of sleep due to daylight savings. It’s actually fun to have away double-headers because there’s a lot of team bonding in the hotel overnight, and that gave us some good vibes going into the game the next day.”

Good vibes calmed the Jumbos’ doubts as they faced off the Ephs for the second time this season, having suffered a 3–0 blow from them on Oct. 21.

“There was nothing to lose going into the final. If we won, it’d be the cherry on top, and if not, it’d be good practice for the NCAA tournament,” Bowers said. “Williams is an incredible team and we respect them a lot. But we also knew we didn’t play our best the last time they beat us, so we felt we were coming into the final as a different team than they thought we were.”

The first half of the game was quiet, with lots of play in the center of the field. Williams senior forward Natasha Albaneze hit the left goal post in the 13th minute and Reed had a shot on goal for the Jumbos eight minutes later, but the shot was blocked by junior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill.

“After Williams had shut us out just a few weeks earlier, we were pumped about entering the second half tied up at zero,” Bowers said. “It showed that we were making them play to our level instead of playing to their level.”

Later in the second half, Sadler flicked a throw-in to Reed, which went out of bounds. Reed then quickly threw back in to Lloyd before the Williams defenders could cover her, enabling Lloyd to pass off to Sadler at the top of the box. Sadler took a touch and cleared a shot past the goalkeeper at 58:56, creating a 1–0 lead for the Jumbos.

“I was falling as I made the shot, so when I got up, I almost wasn’t entirely sure of what had happened. Everyone was screaming and excited, but we immediately had to refocus,” Sadler said.

At 80:23, the score was equalized when a crowd struggled for possession in the Jumbos’ penalty area. Eph junior midfielder Natalie Turner-Wyatt gained possession and took a shot on goal, which was saved by Bowers. Turner-Wyatt then made a second shot with an assist from first-year midfielder Victoria Laino, and was ultimately successful, tying up the score at 1–1. Bowers then made a huge save, scrambling to her left to keep the scores level as the Jumbos struggled to recover from the late equalizer. It remained tied for the rest of the regulation, pushing the game into overtime. 

Four and a half minutes into overtime, Albaneze passed off to sophomore forward Alison Lu who swiftly scored, clinching the Ephs’ eighth NESCAC title.

“I feel disappointment for them, because it just didn’t happen for them,” Whiting said. “They really deserved it; they were so committed every single day. I’m very proud of the way they displayed themselves yesterday. It was a phenomenal game.”

The at-large bids for the NCAA tournament were released on Monday, and fortunately, Tufts clinched a spot, alongside Williams, Middlebury, Conn. College and Hamilton representing the NESCAC.

“Our coach said to us, ‘We’ve had the talent for a long time, but this year, the team has a little bit of magic that we haven’t had in the past,'” Sadler said.

The next magic show for the Jumbos will be the first round of the NCAA bracket on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Virginia Wesleyan at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J.