The undefeated women’s soccer team continued its perfect season with NCAA Tournament wins over Castleton State and Misericordia this weekend, earning a pair of 3-1 victories to advance to the national Round of 16.
The Jeffs, the No. 8-ranked team in the country, secured the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance in three years. Amherst (19-0-0) will face Johns Hopkins (21-0-0) in a battle of undefeated heavyweights for a berth in the national quarterfinals.
Fresh from a stirring comeback win over Williams in last weekend’s NESCAC championships, the Jeffs opened their NCAA campaign with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Castleton State on Saturday.
The Jeffs wasted no time in asserting their dominance over Castleton State, as Mel Stier ’15 scored two goals in the first 10 minutes. Stier netted her first by redirecting a cross from Emily Little ’13 at the 4:25 mark. Less than five minutes later, Sarah Duffy ’14 lofted a ball from the right flank toward the back post, allowing Stier to run onto the cross and head the ball into the net.
Amherst continued to control possession as the half progressed, compiling a 15-4 shots advantage in the first 45 minutes. The Jeffs extended their lead to 3-0 in the 28th minute with a nifty passing combination on the right flank. Little, a defender, joined the attack and ripped a one-timer shot after a give-and-go exchange with Stier.
In the second half, the Spartans surprised the Jeffs with a goal in the 58th minute, closing the margin to 3-1, but hardly threatened down the stretch. The Amherst defense stiffened later in the half, not allowing a single shot in the final 20 minutes of play. Castleton’s Ericka Davis had a busy day in net, finishing with 13 saves, while Allie Horwitz ’12 recorded two saves for the Jeffs.
The next day, the Jeffs defeated Misericordia 3-1 in second-round action. While the final outcome was the same as the previous game, team members said Sunday’s performance against Misericordia marked a vast improvement over Saturday’s sluggish showing.
“We had a bit of a letdown against Castleton, but we came back with renewed focus and energy,” head coach Jennifer Hughes said. “We came out and fought right from the opening whistle.”
Amherst began the match by generating a flurry of scoring chances, immediately putting the visiting Cougars (14-5-2) on their heels. Amherst earned a corner kick opportunity less than five minutes into the match, and Sandy Shepherd ’13 volleyed junior Kathryn Nathan’s cross right off the crossbar; Duffy headed the ensuing rebound into the hands of the Cougars goalkeeper.
The Jeffs stayed aggressive and grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. After using a nice give-and-go exchange to beat her defender at the edge of the 18-yard-box, Little dribbled towards the goal before sending an airborne pass across the goal mouth to Chloe McKenzie ’14, who volleyed the ball into the net.
Looking to extend their lead, the Jeffs recorded six more shots in the subsequent 10 minutes, but could not capitalize on their opportunities. Meanwhile, Misericordia slowly began generating more offensive pressure and tied the score at 1-1 in the 35th minute. Jolted by the Cougars’ sudden goal, the Jeffs regained the lead in the 40th minute, as Little and McKenzie once again connected for the score. Dribbling through the middle of the field, Little sent a well-placed through-ball to McKenzie, who calmly one-timed the finish from just inside the 18-yard-box.
Up 2-1 at halftime, the Jeffs continued to exert waves of attacking pressure in the offensive half, rather than settling into a defensive posture. Amherst recorded seven of the first eight shots in the second half. Misericordia enjoyed a brief spurt of pressure from the 65th to 71st minutes, but the Jeffs out-shot the Cougars 10-0 over the final 19:32.
Amherst netted an insurance goal in the 85th minute to seal the result. Duffy sent a cross from the right side, allowing Little to score on a near-post header.
A day after notching a goal and an assist against Castleton on Saturday, Little propelled the Jeffs’ offense by scoring once and dishing out two assists against Misericordia. Little entered the weekend with just six points (three goals) in 17 previous matches, but the junior winger racked up seven points (two goals, three assists) in two NCAA tournament games this past weekend.
Amherst will travel to Messiah College in Pennsylvania this weekend to compete in the next two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. While Amherst might be playing well enough to beat any team in the country, the tournament organizers did the Jeffs no favors by placing them in the proverbial “bracket of death.”
In what appears to be a brutal Sweet 16 matchup, the No. 8 Jeffs will take on an undefeated No. 4 Johns Hopkins team. Amherst and Hopkins are two of three teams in the nation without a loss or draw this season. The winner of this match will most likely play No. 1 Messiah (19-0-1) in the national quarterfinals.