After consecutive 1–0 losses in the final matches of the regular season, the fourth-seeded Jumbos (10–4–2) bounced back in emphatic fashion on Bello Field on Sunday, beating the fifth-seeded Wesleyan Cardinals (8–5–3) in a NESCAC quarterfinal matchup, 2–0.
The scoreline was gracious to the Cardinals who failed to register a shot on target for the entire game, while the Jumbos notched seven of their 18 shots on target. The match was personal for the seniors on the team who lost to Wesleyan in the 2015 regular season on a last-second goal.
“[Wesleyan] always puts up a good fight,” senior midfielder and co-captain Emma Ranalli said. “That last-second goal is still very vivid in our memory. [This time] we were able to control the midfield, and if we continue to do that we will be successful.”
Tufts dominated Wesleyan on both occasions this year, winning 2–0 both times. For coach Martha Whiting, the Jumbos were even more convincing in the match on Sunday.
“Going into the match we had that nervous excitement,” Whiting said. “This time it was more different than it was similar. We had some injuries last time, but this time we took control of the game and it was so much more convincing.”
Tufts dominated possession for much of the match, winning 50-50 balls from the first minute to the last. Playing in their usual 3–5–2, the defensive trio of senior defender Taylor Koscho, junior midfielder Sarah Maloney and first-year defender Kylie Metcalf mopped up many balls that came their way, finding their central and outside midfielders. Though it was only Metcalf’s second start of her career, she excelled against Wesleyan’s attack.
“[Metcalf] stepped up so late in the season and had the composure beyond that of a [first-year],” Ranalli said. “She’s great at bringing the ball down and finding feet, and winning balls out of the air.”
Junior midfielder Jenna Troccoli and first-year midfielder Lily Sykes were especially effective in the center of the pitch against the Cardinals. The two alongside Ranalli won 50-50 balls again and again, ensuring possession for their side. Sykes has continued to impress Whiting despite this being Sykes’ first season with the program.
“Lily has gotten better literally every game,” Whiting said. “She’s comfortable now. She has great vision and keeps it simple. She doesn’t try to over-complicate things. She’s a great athlete and is always willing to sacrifice her body.”
Sykes and Ranalli often won balls and found Troccoli in advanced positions, who could then find streaking sophomores forward Liz Reed and midfielder/forward Sophie Lloyd. The duo have a combined total of 17 of the team’s 27 goals this season, proving their importance to the team, as well as their chemistry.
“[Reed and Lloyd] are a dangerous pair,” Whiting said. “They really understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses. When you have two really talented forwards, they really complement each other and raise both of their games.”
The duo, as on many occasions this season, combined for the squad’s second goal in a terrific team effort in the 55th minute. Metcalf put Wesleyan’s right winger under pressure, waiting for defensive help. It came through sophomore defender/midfielder Hannah Isenhart, who recovered the ball and played an incisive pass to Troccoli. Troccoli took her first touch forward and played a perfectly weighted through ball past Wesleyan’s defense to a sprinting Lloyd. Just before the ball passed the endline, Lloyd cut the ball back into the six-yard box towards Reed’s front-post run, whose deft left-footed touch found the opposite corner of the goal, leaving Wesleyan’s junior goalkeeper Zoe Cassels-Brown rooted to the spot.
“We were dominating the entire game and a 1–0 lead wouldn’t have represented the game,” Reed said. “It felt great to help move the team past quarterfinals and have a chance to get an NCAA bid.”
The Jumbos’ first goal was more of a defensive lapse on the Cardinals’ part than the sort of offensive ingenuity that was key to their second. In the 26th minute, Reed chased a clearance into Wesleyan’s half and sophomore midfielder/forward Emily Ribatt lost the ball under Reed’s pressure. Reed broke away with the ball and tucked it under Cassels-Brown with ease.
In its upcoming semifinal fixture, Tufts faces off against defending national champions and No. 1 seed Williams (14–0–2). Williams defeated Colby 3–1 this past weekend, letting in only its sixth goal of the season as it stretched its unbeaten streak to 25 games going back to last season. The Jumbos fell 1–0 to the Ephs earlier in the year, despite having 13 shots compared to the Ephs’ seven and six corners compared to the Ephs’ two. Tufts had also forced twice as many saves as they conceded, four to two, and knows it must find a way past Williams senior goalkeeper and co-captain Olivia Barnhill, who has the best save percentage in the conference at .912. Though the Tufts squad is aware of Williams’ talent, the players are not afraid of the supposedly superior side after feeling that they outplayed them in their last meeting.
“We’ve had a little trepidation going to play them over the last couple years,” Whiting said. “Our last game gave us the confidence that we can beat them, so I think that can propel us this weekend. But we will have to play our best because they’re such a good team.”
Ranalli is excited for the match. After losing two consecutive matches for the first time this season, the team hit the reset button for the playoffs.
“We kind of realized that those first 15 games don’t matter anymore,” Ranalli said. “Now we have to keep winning to keep playing. It’s high pressure but that excites us; these are the games that we play for. If we can press high, work off the ball, play the ball on the ground, basically do what we do best, we will be successful.”
The Jumbos kick off the pivotal NESCAC semifinal at Cole Field in Williamstown, Mass. at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. The winner will go on to face either Middlebury or Amherst on Sunday for the right to be called the best team in the conference.