Women’s soccer advances in NCAAs on penalty kicks

MIDDLEBURY — Call Middlebury College junior goalie Eva Shaw the closer.
On Sunday for the second time in eight days Shaw entered a Panther women’s soccer postseason game only after 90 minutes of regulation time and two 10-minute overtimes failed to produce a winner. That means her job is to come in cold and stop penalty kicks.
The occasion on Sunday was an NCAA Regional Final on Middlebury’s South Field turf vs. Ithaca, and the score was 0-0 after 110 minutes.
Eight days earlier in a NESCAC semifinal Shaw stopped four out of seven penalty kicks, including two straight with the Panthers trailing by 2-0 after the first three rounds of kickers. Her performance allowed the Panthers to reach the NESCAC final the next day, which they won.
On this Sunday Shaw, who sat while classmate Ursula Alwang played all the rest of both games, swatted away three straight Ithaca attempts while teammates Sara DiCenso, Ellie Greenberg and Cate Shellenback each converted.
PANTHER ISABELLE HARTNETT’S flick in Saturday’s first-round NCAA women’s soccer game at Middlebury gets past Maine-Farmington goalie Callie Hammer, but defender Emily Kelly clears it off the line. The Panthers won on Saturday, 4-1, and then defeated Ithaca in Sunday’s NCAA regional final in a penalty-kick shootout. They will play in an NCAA Sectional, probably at home, this coming weekend. Photo by Steve James
Her final full-out dive to her right to get her fingertips on the ball and frustrate the last Ithaca shooter triggered another wild celebration. That save pushed the No. 3 Panthers to 17-1-2 and sent them to an NCAA Sectional that they will host this Saturday and Sunday.
A longtime competitive downhill skier who attended Green Mountain Valley School, Shaw afterward explained what she tells herself as opponents place the ball on the penalty stripe.
“One save at a time. Take a deep breath and then just focus on what you can control, which is stopping the ball,” Shaw said.
Shaw wouldn’t give away any secrets on how she can tell whether shooters will aim left or right, other than she has some.
“Ask me in December, I would say,” she said. “Or in February of 2021, when I graduate. But there are things you look for, clues in body language.”
Another secret might be confidence — a Panther assistant mentioned Shaw does not lack for it.
“It’s definitely a high-pressure situation. I was a ski racer before this, so I’m used to those 60 seconds of pressure. It’s about the mental capacity I have. I enjoy the job,” Shaw said. “It’s amazing when Ursula and I can combine to get the win together. It’s not too many teams that have goaltenders who are huge contributors. We like to call ourselves the best goalkeeping team in NESCAC.”
Next up for the Panthers in their home Sectional is 12th-ranked Swarthmore (17-2-2) on Saturday morning. In the early afternoon No. 6 Hardin-Simmons (17-1-1) and No. 10 Misericordia (17-2-1) will square off, and Saturday’s winners will meet on Sunday.
Game times had yet to be announced on Monday, but typically Saturday’s games are played at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and Sunday’s sectional finals at 1 p.m. Sunday’s winner will advance to the tournament’s final four on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Greensboro, N.C. 
If the Panthers are to continue to advance and possibly reach a final four for a second time (2013 was the first) or win their first NCAA title, more good defense like they played this weekend will be critical.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE JUNIOR goalie Eva Shaw awaits the embrace of her jubilant women’s soccer teammates after stopping three straight penalty kicks in a shootout to help the Panthers defeat visiting Ithaca on Sunday in an NCAA Division III Regional final. The Panthers will play in a Sectional this coming weekend, with a final four berth on the line. Photo by Michael Borenstein, Middlebury Campus
Middlebury allowed Ithaca (14-3-3) only six shots at goal, five of which reached Alwang and which she handled easily. The work of the Panther wing backs — notably sophomore Rose Evans and senior captain Janie DeVito, who Coach Peter Kim agreed was the team’s regulation-time player of the game — in shutting down Ithaca leading scorer Alex Epifani was crucial.
DeVito said all the Panthers, including the forwards and midfielders, worked hard all over the field to keep the Bombers under pressure.
“We knew this was going to be a team effort, and everyone had a role today,” she said. “We knew this was going to be a battle, and we had to be sure we were relentless on the field.”
But Shaw, Kim and DeVito all agreed the Panthers have to start finding the net. Even in Saturday’s first-round win they only scored four goals on 51 shots, and three came in the final 17 minutes.
DeVito said the Panthers will be confident moving forward, but will also work on honing their game.
“I think we’re pretty confident. We had some amazing opportunities today, and we were building well out of the back. We just couldn’t finish in that final third. So the momentum is definitely in our favor,” “We definitely have some big competition coming up, but we’re ready for it.”
The Panthers launched 23 shots, nine of which Ithaca goalie Stacey DiGiorgio stopped, and only a few of which she had to move for. Eliza Van Voorhis, Eliza Robinson, Greenberg, Sabrina Glaser, Olivia Miller and Amanda Dafonte all had good looks, and on other occasions Ithaca defenders shielded them from balls sent in to allow DiGiorgio to come out and either dive on them or pick them off in the air.
Kim said the Panthers just have to find a way to recover the form that has led them to average 2.35 goals per game.
“We’ve got to score goals, simple as can be. We create chances. We have great build-up. We defend well. It’s just a matter of getting up on the board,” Kim said. “It’s a combination of intensity to get to balls in the box, and composure to place it home when we’re facing their goalie. We had a bunch of chances when we were one-v-one with the goalie when a cooler head would have gotten us a goal.”
On the plus side DeVito noted the Panthers’ depth as a positive moving forward. On Saturday Kim once again went deep into his bench, subbing in seven players for lengthy minutes, and his season 15 Panthers have scored at least one goal.
“During my four years here the program has always been a great program, and I’ve been very lucky to be a part of it,” DeVito said. “This year it’s the largest team I’ve been a part of, and I think that has really helped us. We have a very deep team. So I think that’s definitely been helping us throughout the season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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