The women’s soccer team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 round on Saturday in Mechanicsburg, Pa., losing 2–1 to the Williams Ephs, a perennial NCAA powerhouse.
With a familiar NESCAC rival as an opponent, it was bound to be a tough game for the Jumbos. Although at the end of the regular season the Jumbos were ranked No. 13, ahead of the No. 24 Ephs in the United Soccer Coaches national poll, the Ephs have not only been dominant against the Jumbos this season — they have won the last two NCAA national championships and three of the last four.
“I think we were very comfortable seeing [Williams] again,” senior midfielder and co-captain Izzy Moore said in a postgame press conference. “We knew who they were and what they were going to do.”
The Ephs scored first early on in the first half. In the eighth minute, as the Jumbos tried to push the pace on offense, the Ephs defense cleared the ball to defender/midfielder Maria Chapman, who then made a long pass upfield to defender/forward Claire Tolliver. Just outside the box, Tolliver made a move to get past senior defender Sarah Maloney and then beat first-year goalkeeper Hayley Bernstein, finding the lower right side of the net.
Through the next 20 minutes, the Jumbos’ attack — led by juniors forward Sophie Lloyd, forward Liz Reed and midfielder Hannah Isenhart — continued to push forward. But the Jumbos struggled to create many solid scoring opportunities, often losing possession to the Ephs’ strong defense.
With 14 minutes remaining in the first half, the Ephs extended their lead to 2–0. Forward Brianna Binder took a shot that was blocked by the Jumbos defense, but defender/midfielder/forward Alison Lu controlled the rebound, broke into the box, and placed a shot into the upper left corner of the goal.
The Jumbos quickly responded with a goal of their own. Reed fired a left-footed shot to the opposite side of the field from the top of the box, tucking it into the upper left corner just out of the reach of Ephs goalkeeper Chelsea Taylor.
“I’m very glad it went in,” Reed said in the postgame press conference. “It means everything to be able to support the team in that aspect. I hit it in, but it wasn’t just me who did it — it was the entire team.”
The Ephs defense stymied the Jumbos in the second half, benefiting from strong play from defenders Sarah Kelly and Nkem Iregbulem.
Perhaps the best chance for the Jumbos in the half came in the 63rd minute. A shot from Reed was deflected out of bounds, giving the Jumbos a corner kick; the Ephs cleared the cross on the corner kick, but Isenhart regained possession for the Jumbos. Isenhart took control and fired a shot, but it was saved by Taylor.
With just about 10 seconds left in regulation, Lloyd gave the Jumbos their final chance as she got a good look off of a loose ball. But her shot was saved, and the match came to a close with the Ephs walking off the field with a 2–1 victory to advance to the Elite Eight.
“The second half — I thought it was relatively even,” coach Martha Whiting told the Daily in an interview. “I will say they moved the ball really well in the second half. We took some pressure for a little bit, but I thought that we did have opportunities in their attacking third, and we countered pretty well. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be that day.”
At the end of the day, the Ephs had 10 shots (three on goal) to the Jumbos’ eight shots (four on goal). The Jumbos won the corner kick column 3–2, though the Ephs quickly cleared two of those three attempts.
Moore explained that despite some small mistakes that proved to be costly, the team showed resilience.
“I think it comes down to just the little mishaps,” Moore said in the press conference. “We then were resilient in the second half and I think it really shaped that second half and how we were playing. We never gave up and that’s the type of team we are.”
This game also continued on the Jumbos’ historical struggles against the Ephs: the last time the Jumbos beat the Ephs — in the regular season or postseason — was 2006.
“You try to put [the history] out of your head because this game stands alone and you have to play well in this one game,” Whiting said. “It’s hard to forget our history and the results in the past few years. We really try to just focus on that day and what we have to do that day. I thought that we did. We tried to be very present and play in the moment, and we did that.”
Williams continued on in the tournament, facing off against Messiah on Sunday afternoon to earn a spot in the Final Four. Messiah defeated Williams on penalty kicks after two overtime periods.
Whiting shared her final thoughts on the season.
“I really love this team,” Whiting said. “Each girl on the team brought something positive to the table. We’re bummed that we lost; it’s really horrible to lose, especially when you get that far.”
“But, we’re really proud of what we did this year,” Whiting added. “We’re probably more sad that this team is now over — this group, this wonderful group where everyone was on the same page, nobody complained and everybody worked hard every day.”