Tufts (10–5–2) suffered a 3–2 loss to Williams in the NESCAC tournament semifinal on Saturday afternoon in Williamstown, Mass. It was the team’s second loss of the year at the hands of Williams. The Jumbos, however, received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament which begins this weekend.
Tufts came into the semifinal confident, despite Williams entering with an undefeated 14–0–2 record. Much like their first meeting, the two teams battled closely — it was by no means a one-sided affair. The Jumbos outshot the Williams Ephs, 17–15, and played their typical aggressive style from the first whistle. But an early deficit proved insurmountable. In just the seventh minute, Williams converted through sophomore midfielder Aspen Pierson, who finished off a rebound after a save from Tufts’ senior goalkeeper Emily Bowers for her third goal of the season. Despite conceding three goals, Bowers played an impressive game, coming up big in goal with three saves for the Jumbos throughout the match.
Tufts was able to get a goal back to knot up the score at 1–1 on an impressive display of personal skill from leading scorer and sophomore midfielder/forward Sophie Lloyd. Lloyd’s goal, her 10th for the year, in the 16th minute was the last bright spot of the first half for the Jumbos.
Williams converted two more goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half to put Tufts under pressure. At 33 minutes, sophomore midfielder Victoria Laino’s goal reclaimed the advantage for the Ephs. An unfortunate own goal two minutes from half-time then doubled Williams’ lead.
On a day when the field was muddy and the conditions made for sloppy play, the Jumbos knew they would have to fight to come back in the game. They were rewarded for their endeavor just a little after five minutes into the second half — junior midfielder Sarah Maloney, who has started every game at center back and has been a standout player all year, converted her second goal of the season when she beat everyone to a cross sent into the box by sophomore defender/midfielder Hannah Isenhart. This was the first time this season that Ephs’ senior goalkeeper and co-captain Olivia Barnhill had conceded more than one goal in a game.
This set up an exciting final 40 minutes: Tufts on all-out attack and Williams squashing all threats. As the game trudged on, the field took a beating, lending way to unpredictable play. Overall, Tufts generated nine shots in the second half, compared to Williams’ four, and forced Barnhill into making three saves in the second half.
Senior forward and co-captain Alex Aronson spoke to the difficulty of playing in treacherous conditions.
“The weather made every pass, every defensive play, every shot just so unpredictable and, honestly, out of anyone’s control on both teams,” Aronson said. “It was a mess and everyone’s legs were just so heavy trying to rock through the mud. But we do not blame the weather, it just made the soccer a little unrecognizable.”
Despite their efforts, the Jumbos were not able to convert an equalizing goal, bringing their NESCAC tournament hopes to an end as the Ephs were able to see off the Jumbo offense.
“We had some chances that we didn’t capitalize on that we could have and should have,” Lloyd said.
Though they were not able to take home the NESCAC crown, this team deserves to be immensely proud of their impressive season record. From starting the season 5–0 to hosting a first-round playoff game, the Jumbos were a stingy NESCAC opponent for any team who took to the field against them.
“This is a very special team,” Lloyd said. “We are all so connected and everyone is dedicated. I know it sounds cliché but this team is really a family. I am so grateful just to get out on the field and spend time with this group every day.”
On an individual note, the Jumbos had one of the top goal scorers and top playmakers in the NESCAC throughout the year in Lloyd and fellow sophomore forward Liz Reed. Lloyd had the second-most points in the NESCAC with 25 and was NESCAC’s third top goal-scorer with 10, while Reed led the assists chart with seven. These two led a lethal Tufts attack nearly every game, filling the stat sheet constantly. The two will surely star for the Jumbos together for the next two seasons. And though the Jumbos are graduating a packed senior class full of strong contributors, the class of 2019 leaves behind a junior class at Kraft Field that has been taught how to lead and a group of sophomores and first-years loaded with talent.
“I think we are jealous we won’t be a part of it,” Aronson said. “The juniors will be remarkable leaders and the underclassmen value camaraderie and putting the team first. It will take hard work and adjustment but they could be some of the best Tufts has seen.”
Fortunately for the senior class, its opportunity to continue sharing the field with the rest of the team will continue this weekend, as the Jumbos received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. Tufts will travel to William Smith in Geneva, N.Y. to face the 13–6 Penn State-Behrend, hoping to extend its season into Sunday and the next weekend.