On the heels of a 20-game winning streak, the women’s soccer team suffered its first — and only — defeat of the 2011 season against top-ranked Messiah in the NCAA Quarterfinals last Sunday, losing by a 3-1 score. The No. 8 Jeffs finished the year with a sterling 20-1-0 overall mark, setting a program record for wins in a season.
After an undefeated regular season and a NESCAC championship victory over Williams, the Jeffs cruised through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, defeating both Castleton State and Misericordia by a 3-1 result.
In the Round of 16, the Jeffs earned arguably their most impressive victory of the season by defeating No. 4 Johns Hopkins 2-0 in a battle of unbeaten teams.
“Johns Hopkins was our best game of the season,” co-captain Jill Kochanek ’12 said. “Everyone on the team really stepped up and rose to the challenge.”
Hopkins played the match in an ultra-aggressive formation, employing four strikers (the standard number is two). The Blue Jays exerted waves of pressure on the Jeffs’ defense early in the first half, earning five corner kick opportunities in the first six minutes. The besieged but disciplined Amherst backline, however, limited the Blue Jays to just one shot in that time frame.
“I think we went into the game somewhat anxious about their formation,” NESCAC Player of the Year Kathryn Nathan ’13 said. “The first five minutes were chaotic but we quickly calmed down and gained confidence in our abilities.”
With five minutes remaining in the first half, Hopkins came inches away from gaining a 1-0 lead, as a shot from Blue Jays’ forward Erica Suter ricocheted off the post. Hopkins out-shot Amherst 9-5 in the opening 45 minutes, but the Jeffs came ready to play in the second half.
Sophomore forward Sarah Duffy catalyzed the Jeffs with an unassisted goal in the 56th minute. After the Hopkins defense misplayed a long ball — allowing the ball to bounce behind the backline — Duffy sprinted past the defenders before chipping over the charging Hopkins goalkeeper for her team-leading 14th goal of the season.
The Jeffs doubled their lead to 2-0 in the 66th minute, when Ariana Twomey ’15 scored the first goal of her collegiate career. Settling a loose ball at the top of the 18-yard-box while aligned with the right post, Twomey fired a shot into the upper-right corner of the net.
Holding a 2-0 lead, the Jeffs’ defense stiffened down the stretch, limiting the Blue Jays to just one shot in the final 25 minutes to preserve the shutout victory. After battling through an evenly contested first half, the Jeffs wrestled control of the match in the second half, outshooting Hopkins 10-2 in the 45-minute period. “We succeeded in stepping aggressively on defense and we stayed composed and connected with each other well on offense,” Nathan said. Senior goalkeeper Allie Horwitz delivered a stellar performance, recording five saves en route to her 19th career shutout.
The Jeffs’ undefeated campaign hit a roadblock last Sunday, however, against top seed Messiah. The Falcons, NCAA Champions in two of the past three seasons, were gunning for their eighth consecutive trip to the Final Four.
“Messiah was a tough opponent; they possess and move off the ball really well,” Kochanek said.
Amherst played physical, aggressive soccer against a talented Messiah side, but the Falcons struck first with a goal in the 15th minute. Messiah forward Erin Hench — the National Player of the Year in 2010 — scored the game’s first tally after racing onto a long ball past the Jeffs’ defense, firing a low, well-placed shot from the top of the 18-yard-box. Undeterred, the Jeffs continued to push numbers forward, registering eight shots in the first half — the most shots Messiah had allowed through a game’s opening half all season.
Messiah’s Hench delivered a crushing blow to the Jeffs’ chances by scoring her second of the game in the 81st minute. With Amherst desperately searching for an equalizer, the Jeffs poured numbers into the attacking half, leaving the defense vulnerable to a counterattack. After a Falcons defender booted a long clear deep into Amherst territory, Hench gathered the ball on the left side, then cut back toward the middle before rifling a shot past Horwitz.
Undaunted by the two-goal deficit, the Jeffs roared back with a goal from Chloe McKenzie ’14 in the 86th minute. The sophomore forward ran onto a through-ball before chipping the ball past the onrushing Falcons goalkeeper, cutting the Messiah lead to 2-1.
But the Jeffs’ Final Four hopes were quickly dashed, as Messiah restored its two-goal cushion just 90 seconds later. Hench completed a hat trick — her second in this year’s NCAA tournament — by releasing a blistering shot from the right that caromed in off the far post.
“Against Messiah, we put everything we had out there and our team has no regrets,” Nathan said. “We fought until the last second was up, which is something to be very proud of.”
Despite the team’s gutsy effort against Messiah, some players said they were disappointed with the on-field execution after an emotional and physically-draining victory over Hopkins the day before.
“They were the better team that day, but I don’t think we put together our best game either,” Kochanek said. “The Hopkins match definitely left us a little physically fatigued, and I think on the whole, we did not make the switch, focus on our game, and attack Messiah like we did Hopkins.”
With the loss, the Jeffs say goodbye to a group of seniors that posted a 55-16-5 record over the last four seasons. The team will have to replace many of its core defensive players. Seniors Kochanek, Jess Wall and Allison Dorey have anchored the Amherst backline in recent seasons, while Horwitz — the starting goalkeeper since freshman year — is also leaving.
“This has been a truly unforgettable season,” Kochanek said. “Going undefeated in the regular season, finally winning a NESCAC championship and beating Williams at home, and making it to the Elite Eight are all memorable moments for us.”
“That being said, I’ve never been on a team where all 27 of my teammates have been so willing to sacrifice and sell out for one another both on and off the field. So more than the all the wins, I think we will remember how close our team was this year.”
“We will remember the practices where we challenged each other to be better and the time we spent together on bus rides and at team dinners. We will remember each other.”