Jeffs Outlast Middlebury for Key NESCAC Win
Issue   |   Tue, 09/09/2014 - 23:26
Photo Courtesy of Rob Mattson
Mel Stier ’15 will look to continue her strong play in her senior campaign to try and help the Jeffs’ advance to their goal of a NCAA National Championship after making the tournament three straight seasons. The Jeffs will look to move past the second round, where they fell to Messiah for the second time since 2011.

A goal resulting from a Jessy Hale free kick lifted the Amherst College women’s soccer team to a 1-0 upset victory over the third-ranked Panthers of Middlebury College (1-1) in Sunday’s season opener.

“Going into Sunday’s game, we were focused on our game and playing the best we could” junior defender Jessy Hale said. “We knew that Middlebury was going to be a tough opponent, but we concentrated on controlling how we played as a team. The entire 90 minutes were very intense and we knew that we had to stay focused regardless of the score. Offensively and defensively we did a great job implementing what we have practiced thus far and stayed composed throughout the game.”

For the Jeffs, playing against third-ranked Middlebury was nothing more than an opportunity to put the results of challenging off-season workouts, preseason practices and hours of preparation to work.

“We were confident going into the game, and we felt really prepared from the practices leading up to it,” senior captain Mel Stier said. “We knew Midd was going to be a tough game, but we went with the mindset that we had nothing to lose.”

Coach Jennifer Hughes is no stranger to success against Middlebury or early on in a season. Amherst hasn’t dropped its first game since 2008. With the win, Amherst defeated Middlebury for the third time in the past four meetings. Coming off of a 2013 trip to the Final Four, Middlebury was expected to lead the pack this season among NESCAC opponents. The Amherst team didn’t shy away from the challenge.

“It was a good start to the season. Midd is a great team, so it was important that we come to play right from the starting whistle,” Coach Hughes said. “We had great energy in the warm-up, so I had a feeling we were going to put in a solid performance right from the start. And we did. In particular, I thought we put forth a great team defensive effort.”

Holding the Panthers scoreless for the fourth consecutive time since 2011, the tenacious Amherst defense posted an impressive performance. Top-ranked junior goalie and 2013 All-NESCAC second team selection Holly Burwick registered nine saves en route to the victory. In the second half alone Burwick denied all six of Middlebury’s shot attempts.

The Jeffs were outshot on the afternoon 18-6, as the Panthers applied constant offensive pressure to the Amherst defense.
With the efforts displayed in Sunday’s NESCAC matchup, Burwick garnered her first accolade of the season as the NESCAC Player of the Week.

“Holly played lights out and came up with some big-time saves,” Coach Hughes said.

Though the Panther offense had several good looks on goal, namely in the ninth and 26th minutes, the Jeffs’ defense proved too tough. These two saves were crucial for helping Amherst have a chance at overcoming Middlebury’s 18-6 shot advantage. These missed opportunities for Middleburry ensured that Amherst’s second half success would launch them to victory.

At the 70:13 mark, the Purple and White netted what would be the game’s first and only goal. A Middlebury penalty made outside of the box gave Hale a free kick. The shot ricocheted off a Middlebury player and made it’s way into the net.

“Mel and I lined up with the ball and I shot it,” Hale said. “Leading up to the foul, we possessed the ball throughout the entire field building up to our offensive third. It was really a team effort and a result of our hard work.”

Playing from behind for the last twenty minutes, Middlebury turned on the pressure. The Amherst squad remained composed and would never once falter.

“The last twenty minutes of the game were challenging because Midd was pushing forward and trying to get a goal,” Hale said. “I think our defense, starting with the forwards all the way to the keeper, did a great job high pressuring while maintaining composure until the final whistle.”

With a lot of time remaining in the game, it was important for Amherst to continue with the momentum and not allow Middlebury to control the ball at all times.

“There were still 20 minutes left in the game when we scored,” Coach Hughes said. “As expected, Midd upped the pressure. But, we battled back and created our own momentum at times. This was important as I didn’t want us to defend, defend, defend for 20 minutes. It’s a lot of time and a lot can happen. “

Newcomer Meredith Manley helped the Amherst offense as a starting midfielder. Other first-years Hannah Guzzi and Delancey King saw time as they took the field for the first time in the Purple and White. Alison Neveu, who is currently battling injury, rounds out the first-year class.

“I can see all of our four first-years making a huge impact upon our team from the very beginning,” junior forward Megan Kim said. “They all bring incredibly hard work ethic and a passion for the game. No doubt they have added and will continue to add to our team dynamic both on and off the field.”

Moving forward, the Amherst team looks to use the momentum from this game to propel them to success.

“The win was definitely a team effort all around, and everyone contributed to the success we had,” Stier said.

A win against a top ranked rival at this stage in the season spells good things as the team presses forward.

“Midd is a really good team and I’m proud of the effort we put forward as a team,” Burwick said. “We have a lot of room for improvement which is why it’s exciting to beat a team like Midd so early on.”

Amherst looks to use the momentum and excitement to its advantage at the home opener against Mt. Holyoke on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, Sept. 13 Amherst will hit the road to match up against NESCAC opponent Bowdoin (1-0).

Last year’s contest against Bowdoin ended in a 0-0 draw. Through regulation and two overtime periods, Amherst failed to score despite a 23-9 advantage in shots. The team looks to pick up the win this time on the road.

“Like I said, Midd is a great team” Coach Hughes said. “They went to the Final 4 last year and they have a good chunk of their team back. So, I hope this gives us some confidence as we go forward. Overall, we have all the pieces — talent, leadership, and chemistry — so I’m hopeful. But, right now, we’re just focusing on our next game — tomorrow against Mt. Holyoke.”