Women’s soccer wins sectional, books trip to NCAA final
MIDDLEBURY — For the second time in program history, the Middlebury College women’s soccer team is going to the NCAA Division III final four.
In a Sunday NCAA sectional final played on the men’s soccer team’s turf surface due to wet conditions on their own field, the third-ranked Panthers earned that final four berth by edging No. 10 Misericordia, 1-0, on a second-half goal by postseason hero Ellie Greenberg.
In Saturday’s sectional semifinal Greenberg scored the game-winner as the 18-1-3 Panthers blanked No. 12 Swarthmore, 2-0, and Greenberg also scored the game’s only goal when Middlebury defeated Williams in the NESCAC final.
The Panthers would be happy to get another shot at Williams. On Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. they will play undefeated and No. 1 Washington-St. Louis in one NCAA semifinal. After that contest, Williams, the defending champion, and Christopher Newport will play in the other semi, and the winners will meet at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 for the title.
Middlebury Coach Peter Kim said after Sunday’s win his team will look forward to the next set of challenges.
“It’s anybody’s game in the playoffs, and we’re excited to play the No. 1 team and measure ourselves against someone who is a perennial favorite,” Kim said.
Greenberg shared the why-not-us mentality.
“It’s a dream. Now we have two more games to win,” Greenberg said. “We’re in it, so we might was well win it.”
First the Panthers had to get past Misericordia, which upset No. 6 Hardin-Simmons on penalty kicks on Saturday, and Swarthmore.
Against Swarthmore the Panthers came on strong as the game wore on, and second-half goals by Greenberg and Eliza Robinson and strong defense made the difference.
Swarthmore (17-3-2 and known as “The Garnet”) carried play for the first half hour and had the game’s first good chance. Garnet leading scorer Marin McCoy fired a hard 22-yard shot at the upper left corner, but Panther goalie Ursula Alwang (two saves) punched it wide in the 17th minute.
The Panthers’ all-field defensive pressure began to take its toll on Swarthmore, and they began to get the better of play late in the half. In the 36th minute forward Eliza Van Voorhis headed a serve from the left side to open midfielder Olivia Miller, but close-range header went right to Garnet keeper Amy Shmoys for one of her seven saves.
Middlebury kept pressing in the second half, although early on Panther right back Janie DeVito did well to deny a strong McCoy run.
The pressure paid off at 28:33, when the speedy Greenberg stole the ball from one defender just outside the Swarthmore box, touched it around another back, retrieved the ball before Shmoys arrived, and touched it from near the penalty stripe into the right side.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE FRESHMAN left back goes airborne to clear the ball away from Misericordia’s Kaylee Sturans during Sunday’s NCAA Division III sectional final, won by the host Panthers, 1-0. The Panther defense and goalie Ursula Alwang have surrendered only one goal in four tournament games and did not allow a score this weekend (photo by Michael Borenstein, Middlebury Campus). Below, Middlebury junior striker Ellie Greenberg celebrates her game-winning goal vs. Misericordia on Sunday with senior Amanda Dafonte, middle, and junior Sabrina Glaser. Photo by Steve James
The Panthers controlled the rest of play, but survived one Garnet corner kick on which a Grace Taylor header hit the crossbar, after which Miller cleared the rebound off the goal line and sophomore center back Isabelle Hartnett — who was terrific in both games, notably by winning the ball in the air — blocked another dangerous bid.
Forward Eliza Robinson sealed the win with 6:17 to go. Miller touched a short aerial pass to Van Voorhis near the left post, and Van Voorhis lofted another well-weighted short ball to Robinson cutting to goal. Robinson slammed the ball out of the air high into the net.
After one more Alwang save and a blocked shot by Middlebury left back Rose Evans the Panthers were onto Sunday.
There, the Panthers controlled most of the action, outshooting Misericordia (17-3-2) by 12-4. The first great chance came in the 18th minute, when Miller made a strong run up the right side and served to the far side of the box. Gretchen McGrath settled the ball and fired from about eight yards, but Cougar defender Zoee Farr deflected the shot over the crossbar.
Five minutes later, Misericordia’s Madison Carlo fed Kendall Pearage inside the Middlebury box, but Alwang stopped Pearage’s shot right off of her foot. The Panthers pressed and had a series of restarts, but could not convert.
Misericordia’s best sustained work came early in the second half, and in the eighth minute Alwang did well to tip Hannah Techman’s looping 30-yard shot over the bar. Seven minutes later Ashley Edgell’s header on a cross from the left wing went just wide of the right post, but Alwang looked to have it covered.
Middlebury took the lead about a minute later. Sabrina Glaser floated a 20-yard ball down the middle toward Greenberg and two defenders inside the top of the Misericordia box. Greenberg won the bouncing ball, touched it to her right, and fired a shot into the right side of the net at 24:06. It was her sixth goal this the season, half of which have come in the postseason.
Panther forward Simone Ameer twice threatened, missing just wide right on a solo rush and seeing a defender clear her shot off the line following a scramble after a Robinson corner kick with 18 minutes left.
Misericordia made a bid in the final two minutes, but Alwang punched out a long free kick into the box, and then collected a loose ball with the Cougars on her doorstep to finish off her eighth shutout of the season. She finished with two saves, while Misericordia’s Alexis Benedetto made five.
Kim praised the work of DeVito, Hartnett and Evans across the back line. They and Alwang have combined to allow just one goal in the past five games. Kim noted Evans stepped in when fellow freshmen Elise Morris went down with a season-ending injury, and the defense did not miss a beat.
“The fact we could hold so strong as a back line without Elise is just a huge thing for us,” Kim said.
THE MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE women’s soccer team on Sunday afternoon celebrates winning the NCAA Division III sectional they hosted this weekend. The Panthers will next head to NCAA Division III Final Four in Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy
Kim also said the speedy Greenberg is “really coming into her own” as a striker.
“Goals never come easy in the playoffs, so you have to find that extra bit of energy and heart. It’s not just a technical issue. It’s not a tactical issue. It’s a matter of finding a way,” Kim said. “And Ellie found a way to put it home. It was determination I think that ultimately got us the goal.”
Greenberg talked about the success beginning with hard work after the team’s second-round NCAA loss last fall, and has continued with game-by-game focus this year.
“We’ve really tuned into every game and worked our way through the season,” she said. “We’ve been locked in all season long. And now we get to go to North Carolina.”