The 2018 campaign for the Tufts women’s soccer team (11–6–2) came to an end after a second-round loss in the NCAA tournament to William Smith in double overtime. It was the second game of a back-to-back weekend, after Tufts defeated Penn State Behrend 2–0 in first-round action on Saturday afternoon.
This was the second straight season that the Jumbos had qualified for the national tournament. Senior goalkeeper Emily Bowers, who earned first team All-NESCAC honors for the second straight season earlier in the week, believes that tougher competition promoted growth for the Jumbos.
“I think the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament last year helped the team have more confidence going into our games this year,” Bowers said. “We also play with nationally ranked teams throughout our season, so that experience was also important for us to know we can compete with any team in these games.”
Though the Jumbos came in with confidence and the belief that they can play with any team in this tournament, the inability to convert opportunities was a familiar hurdle that stood in their way on Sunday.
Tufts and William Smith traded blows for nearly 110 minutes in their double overtime dogfight, with neither team conceding a goal in regulation or the first overtime. If the seemingly mundane box score makes it seem like a a battle of unbreakable defenses, the game was anything but that. Rather, it was a pair of superb goalkeepers who consistently stifled promising break-free attacks. Bowers and William Smith senior goalkeeper Veronica Romines had seven and nine saves, respectively, by the end of regulation.
Ultimately, it was William Smith who finally broke the tie. In the 108th minute, sophomore forward Amanda Adams had her shot blocked. The hosts managed to regroup quickly as sophomore forward Sheila McQuillen ended the game just twenty seconds later with a lofted shot that crept over the outstretched arm of Bowers.
Counting on Bowers’ heroics has proven effective for the Jumbos thus far, but on Sunday their opponents played well enough to convert a goal. Statistically, the contest was neck-and-neck throughout, making that game-determining goal all the more devastating. Tufts was able to put up 16 shots of its own, nine of them on goal, compared to William Smith’s 12. The team played its style of fast-paced possession soccer to move up the field but was unable to find a way to break through a Williams Smith defense that has only allowed seven goals all season.
Senior midfielder and co-captain Emma Ranalli, who has starred for the Jumbos in the holding midfield position for four years, gave her outlook on the season-ending game.
“It was an incredibly evenly matched game that could have gone either way,” Ranalli said. “It just happens this time it didn’t go our way. That is the great thing and the most devastating thing about soccer. It just doesn’t always go your way. Looking back at that game, as a team I think we realize there wasn’t much we would change. We battled, both offensively and defensively, and left everything on that field. Unfortunately, they converted on an opportunity and we didn’t, and that was the difference.”
The hard-fought loss came on the heels of a convincing victory for the Jumbos the day prior against the Penn State Behrend Lions, who have never won a game in the national tournament. Sophomore forward Liz Reed scored two goals in the first 15 minutes of the first half to effectively seal the game for the Jumbos. Both of Reed’s goals were assisted by her classmate and fellow sophomore midfielder/forward Sophie Lloyd. From that point on, the Jumbos maintained intensity to seal the win and look toward the second round of tournament play. The team’s refusal to get complacent, however, resulted in 13 shots on goal and six corner kicks. Tufts’ dominant control of possession left Penn State Behrend with minimal touches and consequently, minimal opportunities to score.
“We really put the pressure on Penn State Behrend early and made it hard on them from the start … It was a tricky game with the conditions, it was so windy and cold,” Ranalli said. “We struggled at times to play the soccer we like to play, but what we were able to do was finish the chances we had early.”
Saturday was the first NCAA tournament win for the Jumbos since 2007, making this team one of the most successful Tufts has had in the past decade, with five All-NESCAC honorees, the most since 2000. Despite the loss marking the conclusion of the season, senior defender Lexie Miller said she feels an immense amount of pride for how the team played this year.
“It was definitely surreal when that final whistle went off and I knew my Tufts soccer career was over,” Miller said. “But everyone is really proud of this team, especially the seniors, with how far we have come.”
It has been a journey for these seniors who have been a part of the soccer program all four years: They lost early in the NESCAC tournament their first two years but recovered and improved enough to qualify for NCAAs and win a national tournament game in their final season. The stacked senior class is leaving behind many marks of success and a younger core that knows how to be successful.
“We are all incredibly proud to have put our hearts into this team and are so lucky to have gotten back all that we have from [the women’s soccer program],” Ranalli said. “Personally, I will always carry this team and the confidence and belief they have shown me wherever I go after this.”