Women's Soccer Falls in NESCAC Quarters, Hopes for NCAA At-Large Bid
Issue   |   Wed, 11/04/2015 - 00:31
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Rachael Abernethy ’16 scored a goal for Amherst in their NESCAC quarterfinal matchup against Middlebury, but the Jeffs fell 3-2 to the Panthers.

After clinching two decisive victories over Wesleyan (6-7-2, 3-5-2) and Trinity (11-5, 6-4) to wrap-up regular season competition, the women’s soccer team suffered a heartwrenching 2-1 loss to sixth-ranked Middlebury (7-4-5, 4-3-3) in final 20 seconds of the NESCAC tournament quarterfinals. Amherst entered the tournament ranked third in the NESCAC and 19th in the nation, and now they anxiously wait, hoping to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

Before the tournament weekend, Amherst gained momentum starting with a phenomenal Senior Day game performance. In a game that honored seniors Holly Burwick, Jessy Hale, Haley Zwecker, Rachael Abernethy and Megan Kim, the purple and white handily dropped Wesleyan 2-0. At the conclusion of the regular season, the class had amassed an overall record of 43-13-8 and a conference record of 24-8-6. Since these seniors joined the squad, Amherst outscored opponents 130-41 and never missed an NCAA tournament birth.

“Against Wesleyan we played consistently throughout the entire game,” Hale said. “We were really proud of our final product and played a full 90.”

Center forward Emily Hester ’17 led the effort and sealed the deal capitalizing on two first-half opportunities. Just under seven minutes into action, Maeve McNamara ’19 found Hester on a cross from the right side. Hester collected the ball and fired a shot into the bottom left corner of the net, pushing the Jeffs out to a 1-0 lead. Haley Zwecker ’16 was the next Jeff to find Hester on a cross. Again, Hester fired, notching her second goal of the day with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

As a result of her dominant offensive efforts, Hester has amassed nine goals against NESCAC opponents and ranks third in the NESCAC for the most number of goals this season.

En route to her sixth shutout on the year, Amherst netminder Burwick reminded everyone why she is regarded as one of the top keeper’s in the CAC. Topping all NESCAC goalies with a .901 save percentage, Burwick delivered yet another sensational effort. In the 43rd minute, Burwick made an unbelievable save, diving to her right side to deflect the shot of Wesleyan’s Beth Alexion. The crowd erupted in appreciation for Burwick’s incredible reaction time.

Amherst posted a 19-14 shot advantage over the Cardinals but were slightly edged 5-6 in corner kick opportunities.
Against fourth-ranked Trinity, the Amherst offense was immediately on the attack. In the first half alone, the Jeffs delivered 10 of 11 shots on goal.

“Trinity was a game where it really felt like everything we’ve worked hard for over the course of the season came together all at once,” Hester said. “Wesleyan was sort of our warm up to Trinity. Things started clicking in the Wesleyan game but we really started connected to our full potential in the Trinity game. We went in with a more extreme attacking mentality than we have in the past and it really paid off for us.” Amherst finished the regular season with a 6-2-2 conference record, earning the third seed in the NESCAC tournament. In the quarterfinals on Saturday, Oct. 31, the purple and white hosted sixth-seeded Middlebury at Hitchcock Field.

Amherst entered halftime with a 2-1 lead, but Middlebury responded with two goals in the second half, claiming victory on a heartbreaking 90th-minute goal.

The Panthers struck first with a goal in the 11th minute, but the Jeffs responded with one of their own just eight minutes later. Gaining position on the Middlebury defender, Hester was taken down inside the box and awarded a penalty kick. Ashlyn Heller ’17 stepped up to take the spot kick, and slotted it past the goalkeeper to even the score at 1-1.

The Jeffs then took the lead in the 38th minute when Middlebury’s netminder deflected a shot from Hannah Guzzi ’18 into the path of Abernethy, who one-touched the rebound into the net.

Amherst headed into the break with a 2-1 advantage, but the Panthers equalized minutes into the second half.

In a spectacular individual effort, Middlebury’s Katherine Hobbs beat a Jeffs defender and fired a shot from outside the box into the top-right corner of the net.

The Panthers nearly grabbed the lead in the 65th minute with a shot from Amanda Hotvedt, but Burwick made a diving save to her right to keep the match even. In the 84th minute, McNamara nearly put Amherst in front. Outpacing her defender to pick up the ball in Middlebury’s box, the first-year’s attempt went inches over the bar.

It would be Hotvedt who claimed the game-winner in the 90th minute for Middlebury. A defensive miscommunication left Amherst’s net beckoning, and the Panthers midfielder made no mistake to win the game, 3-2.

The fate of Amherst’s postseason action opportunity will be released on Monday, Nov. 9. For now, the team will continue to practice this week, while crossing their fingers that good news in the form of an at-large bid will arrive soon.

“Hopefully the soccer gods are good to us and we get an NCAA bid and can continue with that attacking mentality further into the post season,” Hester said.