Third-Ranked Women’s Soccer Falls to #5 Williams in NCAA Championship, Edged 3-2 in PKs

Ursula Alwang punches a ball over the crossbar in Saturday's contest. (photo by Christopher Coutinho)
Ursula Alwang punches a ball over the crossbar in Saturday's contest. (photo by Christopher Coutinho)

POST-MATCH PRESS CONFERENCE

Third-ranked Middlebury earned a 1-1 draw with fifth-ranked Williams during the NCAA Championship match, as the Ephs claimed the national title via a 3-2 tally in penalty kicks on Saturday at the UNCG Soccer Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Panthers finish their season with a program-record 19 wins and a 19-2-3 mark, with their losses coming to the Ephs in the regular-season finale and NCAA Championship. Williams ends its year at 19-1-4, with their singular setback coming at the hands of the Panthers during the NESCAC Championship. Middlebury advanced to the NCAA title tilt for the first time in the program's history.

The Panthers applied the early pressure in the opening half, with their best chance coming in the fifth minute when Eliza Robinson's attempt from 25 yards out went high and to the left of the Eph goal.

Williams flipped the momentum in its favor, earning three-consecutive corner kicks in a two-minute span covering the 25th and 26th minutes. Continuing that pressure, the Ephs got on the scoreboard with 27:23 elapsed when Georgia Lord dribbled up the left side and sent a cross into the box. Ilana Albert one-touched it to the right side, where Aspen Pierson ripped a left-footed shot that was just out of the diving reach of Panther goalie Ursula Alwang on the right post. The tally snapped a scoreless streak of 446:52 of action by Alwang that spanned the last six NCAA matches.

After the goal, Middlebury tilted the field back in its favor, nearly tying the contest with four minutes left, but the opportunity was thwarted by an offside call.

Following the halftime break, the rain intensified and the match slowed down with a lot of play in the midfield. The Panthers had a good chance in the 73rd minute, but Robinson's shot was blocked from 25 yards out by an Eph defender. Williams looked to double its advantage nearly four minutes later, but an attempt from 15 yards out by Pierson was denied by a sprawling Alwang to her right.

On the ensuing counter, Middlebury knotted the match 1-1 at the 77:40 mark on an own goal. An Eph defender looked to clear the ball from inside the six-yard goalie box, but her attempt deflected off Williams' goalie Olivia Barnhill and trickled into the back of the net.

In the 84th minute, Clare Robinson had her shot from 20 yards away sail wide to the right. Nearly four minutes later, Williams had a shot by Mikayla Kappes 30 yards from the right side sail well outside the far post, as regulation time ended with the match tied at 1-1.

During the early stages of the initial overtime, the Ephs had a pair of scoring threats, but Alwang punched the first attempt over the crossbar and corralled the second one on a corner kick. The Panthers looked for the game-winning tally with just over a minute left, but Eliza Van Voorhis' shot went just wide of the far post. Williams closed the session with a flurry, as a loose ball inside the penalty box was struck by Sarah Scire, but Alwang came off her line and deflected it with her foot to send the match to a second overtime.

The Panthers threatened in the second extra period, but a long ball sent into the box by Eliza Robinson bounced away from traffic and dribbled just over the end line as Barnhill came out to challenge the initial kick. In the 105th minute, Williams had its best chance but a shot by Victoria Laino went wide of the left post and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

During penalty kicks with Williams shooting first, Middlebury goalie Eva Shaw was inserted between the pipes, while Barnhill took the kicks for the Ephs. After each keeper denied the respective first attempts, a shot by Williams snuck inside the left post before Sara DiCenso knotted the tally at 1-1 with a shot to the upper-left corner. The Ephs regained the advantage with a shot that found the upper part of the net. Each side missed its next attempt, before Cate Shellenback ripped a shot for the Panthers that found the left side of the net to knot the score at 2-2. Williams converted its next attempt in the fifth round, but Clare Robinson's shot was tipped by Barnhill before hitting the left post and bounding away.

Alwang finished the contest with two saves, including the huge stop at the end of the first overtime, while Barnhill made one stop. The Ephs held a 13-7 advantage in shots and a 6-2 edge in corner kicks.

Saturday's contest was the first between two NESCAC programs in the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship match. It also marked the third time in the last five title matches that an NCAA Champion was crowned via penalty kicks. Williams also claimed the 2017 NCAA Championship, becoming the first team to repeat since Messiah in 2011 and 2012. The contest marked the fourth time in the last five years that a NESCAC team has competed in the championship match. The Middlebury seniors end their careers with a record of 52-15-11 record (.738).

At the conclusion of play, Middlebury's Alwang, Rose Evans, Simone Ameer and Clare Robinson were named to the all-tournament team.