Women’s soccer falls short in NCAA first round

Sophomore midfielder Emma Ranalli keeps the ball away from defenders in the women's soccer home game against Lesley on Kraft Field on Oct 17. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

Making the almost 300-mile trip down south to The College of New Jersey, Tufts women’s soccer ultimately came up short in its first-round NCAA match against the Virginia Wesleyan University Marlins (15–7–1), losing 3–2. With that, the Jumbos finish the season at 10–6–3, an improvement of their 7–6–3 record from the previous season.

Virginia Wesleyan finished as the top seed in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC), scoring 54 goals in its 19-game regular season. However, the Marlins fell 2–1 in their ODAC semifinal game against the Bridgewater Eagles (16–5–1).

Given an at-large bid to the NCAA Div. III tournament, the Marlins made use of their opportunity and dealt the damage onto the Jumbos in the first half. With the game potentially being both teams’ last, the two teams started out tentatively, unwilling to give anything away to the other. Virginia Wesleyan ultimately drew first blood. The Marlins were clinical with the chances they created, as they scored three times in the opening 45 minutes.

The Marlins’ leading scorer this season, sophomore forward Alex Davidson, got her team started with a strike in the 11th minute. From a corner, junior forward Brooke Adamchak found Davidson, who somehow lifted the ball past junior Jumbo goalkeeper Emily Bowers to give the Marlins a 1–0 lead.

Davidson scored again in the 27th minute. First-year forward Mia Meinhardt lifted a ball from the top of the box, finding Davidson for a first-time shot past Bowers to double the Marlins’ lead.

“They were a good team. They were very athletic, well-organized defensively and they had a player [Alex Davidson] who had a really good nose for goal, and I was impressed by her,” Tufts coach Martha Whiting said. “They gave us a really good game and they scored more than we did, [so] that’s how the game ended.”

The Marlins were eager to press their opponents high up the pitch, leaving the Jumbos little room to play the possession-style soccer they prefer. Still, Tufts managed to manufacture a few scoring chances in the opening period. One of the best first-half opportunities came around the 35th minute mark. First-year defender/midfielder Hannah Isenhart put in a dangerous cross. When the ball was only partially cleared, Tufts’ sophomore midfielder Jenna Troccoli hit a looping volley that had Virginia Wesleyan’s sophomore goalkeeper Alicia Zamora scrambling.

Tufts was finally rewarded for its efforts just before halftime. In the 42nd minute, junior co-captain midfielder Emma Ranalli launched a direct free kick from just outside the box past Zamora to halve the deficit for the NESCAC runners-up.

Just a couple minutes later, however, Tufts conceded what proved to be the winning goal. In the final 30 seconds of the first half, first-year Marlin midfielder Mary Alexis Jackson received the ball and warded off pressure from three Jumbo defenders. Jackson fed the ball to junior forward Kennedy Skala, who fired her shot past Bowers to give the Marlins a 3–1 lead.

“It was back and forth [that first half]. Fortunately, we’re good at reacting to adversity,” Tufts senior co-captain forward Alex Scheman said. “But instead of playing our game in the first half — and we didn’t play badly by any means — it was hard to just let it all out in the first half because we just didn’t know what we were expecting.”

Virginia Wesleyan tried to kill the game off early in the second half, with sophomore forward Marli Hayward, first-year forward/midfielder Anna Pedicone, junior midfielder Julia Downing and senior midfielder Zoe Traficante launching shots at Bowers’ goal in the opening five minutes of the second half. Yet in the 63rd minute, somewhat against the run of play, first-year forward Sophie Lloyd — Tufts’ leading goalscorer and the NESCAC Rookie of the Year — connected with Sadler’s cross into the box to reduce the deficit.

Tufts pushed its players forward in the waning minutes of the contests, looking desperately for an equalizer to save its season. Sadler tried to turn provider again with a cross for Lloyd in the 80th minute, only for the latter’s header to fall straight into Zamora’s arms. Tufts’ best chances came in the closing minutes. Another enviable opportunity came in the 89th minute, when sophomore midfielder Ashley Latona’s blocked shot was worked out to sophomore midfielder Sarah Maloney via Ranalli. While Maloney had plenty of power behind her strike, the shot beat Zamora but could not beat the post and came crashing back off the crossbar. The ball was then worked in again from the left-hand side with an inviting cross to the back post, but Sadler slipped at the final moment under pressure from Zamora and placed the shot high over the bar.

Whiting felt aggrieved about the non-call, but also expressed that conceding three goals in the first half put her team in a difficult position.

“Sarah Maloney came flying forward, took a great shot, hit the underside of the crossbar and came straight back down,” Whiting said. “Whether it went in or not — it looked like it did from our angle, but the official said he had it covered — we put ourselves in a position where we had to score and score. [When] you get scored on three times, it’s tougher to come back.”

While the season might have ended prematurely, there is much to look forward to.

“It’s hard to get beyond this season already and to look forward, but the nice thing is that we’ve a bright future. We’ve got a lot of talented players coming back, [and] we’ve got a very talented group of freshmen coming in who will complement the returning players very well,” Whiting said. “The nice thing is that we have had a taste of success and what it actually takes to be successful, and once you know that, you can build on that.”

For Scheman, the program is in good hands due to the quality of the returning players next year.

“Good things bring good things,” she said. “I think we had such a solid freshmen class this year because last year we started to develop in terms of knowing that we were a good team. With this first-year class that was wildly successful, I think it would encourage other recruits to come that are top-quality and contribute to the program… I’ve [got] a lot to look forward to as an [alumna] coming back to watch.”