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Heartbreak for Panther soccer in shootout

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Middlebury College women’s soccer team on Saturday came up inches, or even less, short of the program’s first NCAA Division III championship — literally. 
The Panthers and NESCAC rival Williams — meeting for the third time this season after splitting 1-0 decisions — fought to a 1-1 tie in the title match. Then the Ephs edged the Panthers, 3-2, in penalty kicks to claim their second-straight NCAA crown. 
In that penalty-kick shootout Middlebury goalie Eva Shaw, the Panthers’ PK specialist, made two saves and twice guessed correctly where Eph shooters were aiming — only to see their bids elude her by the tiniest of margins and settle low into the goal’s left-side netting. It appeared Shaw even got her fingertips on one of the Eph efforts. 
That shootout capped a rain-soaked match that saw Williams take a first-half lead on a beautiful goal, the Panthers equalize with some good fortune as they pressed forward, and Middlebury goalie Ursula Alwang make a brilliant overtime kick save to keep her team alive. 
In the end, the title went to the Ephs, while both teams get a tie on their records, and no one else defeated either team all season. Middlebury finished at 19-1-4, with a loss to Williams in the regular-season finale. Williams (18-1-5) lost only to the Panthers on their home turf in the NESCAC championship game. 
Middlebury Coach Peter Kim talked in the postgame press conference about his group and its ultimate disappointment. 
“We have a very special team. And we gave up a goal in the first half, and we knew we could come back. The fact that we tied it up means everything,” Kim said. “In the end it was a game of Russian roulette. And we were fingernails away from winning it.”
Williams probably earned a slight edge in play, with more midfield possession, chances and advantages of 13-7 in shots attempted and 6-2 in corner kicks. 
The Ephs took the lead at 27:23 with the first goal the Panthers allowed since the first game of the NCAA tournament, a span of 446:52. Georgia Lord won a battle for the ball with two Panthers along the left sideline and fed Aspen Pierson at the top of the Panther box. Pierson kept a defender on her back, turned and left-footed a low shot just inside the right post past the diving Alwang. 
After the goal, Middlebury tilted the field back in its favor, but the Panthers were offsides on their best threat, which came with four minutes left in the half. 
With the steady rain worsening, most of the second half was contested at midfield. In the 73rd minute a serve from the left bounced to a charging Eliza Robinson just outside the top of the Eph box, but a Williams defender blocked her strong shot. Four minutes later Alwang jumped to her right to deny Pierson from 15 yards out. 
MIDDLEBURY MIDFIELDER CLARE Robinson battles a Williams College player for the ball during Saturday’s NCAA Division III final. The Panthers and Ephs tied, 1-1, but Williams won the crown on penalty kicks, 3-2. Robinson was named to the all-tournament team. 
Photo by Christopher Coutinho
At 77:40 the Panther pressure paid off with an own goal. Eliza Van Voorhis sent Olivia Miller into the right corner, and she served to Ellie Greenberg at the near post. Greenberg got a touch on the ball, but it bounced off an Eph defender back toward the goal. The defender tried to clear the ball, but it struck sprawled Eph goalie Olivia Barnhill in the back and bounced back into the net. 
In the first overtime Alwang punched one shot over the crossbar and corralled the following corner kick. With just over a minute left a Van Voorhis’ shot went wide of the far post. In the final seconds the Ephs worked the ball to Sarah Scire at about the penalty stripe, but Alwang (three saves) came off her line and kicked her shot wide left to send the match to a second overtime.
In the second extra period, Eliza Robinson’s long ball bounced away from traffic and trickled over the end line after Barnhill came out to challenge the initial kick. 
In penalty kicks Williams shot first. Shaw and Barnhill both saved the first bids. A Williams shot snuck just past Shaw inside the left post before Sara DiCenso knotted the score. Two more saves and conversions by Pierson and Cate Shellenback knotted the score at 2-2. Williams again barely got the ball past Shaw before Barnhill denied Clare Robinson’s shot toward the right side to give the Ephs the title.
Kim praised both the Panthers and Ephs.
“I thought we took advantage of our strong defending and turned the tide after Williams pressed us for a while. I thought we created some really dangerous chances,” Kim said. “I thought we were a good team all over the field, and that Williams was an awesome team as well.”
FRIDAY SEMIFINAL
The Panthers defeating top-ranked Washington University of St. Louis (21-1) in a Friday semifinal, 1-0. Washington outshot the Panthers, 12-3, but few of the shots were dangerous as the Panthers controlled the game defensively.
Each team had one chance in the first half. In the 24th minute Alwang handled Jessica Kovach’s bad-hop bouncing shot from outside the box; the rebound squirted just out of Alwang’s reach, but she easily corralled the loose ball. Six minutes later, Middlebury’s Simone Ameer’s redirection of a bending corner kick went just wide of the right post. 
Ameer put Middlebury on the scoreboard 2:33 into the half stanza with a beautiful goal that earned two assists. Gretchen McGrath, who played a strong game, looped a ball into the penalty box from the left side to Greenberg, off the right post. Greenberg headed back to Ameer, near the penalty stripe. Ameer volleyed the ball out of the air with her left foot, curling it just inside the left post. The goal was just the sixth Washington allowed this season.
PANTHER SOPHOMORE ELIZA Van Voorhis sends the ball upfield on Saturday during Middlebury’s 1-1 NCAA Division III tie against Williams in Greensboro, N.C. The Ephs won the title in a penalty kick shootout. Van Voorhis helped create the Panther goal.
Photo by Christopher Coutinho
The Bears managed seven shots in the final 15 minutes. The best chance came in the 82nd minute. A corner kick from the left side came to Maggie Crist just past the far post, but Alwang dove to her left to knock down her header, and McGrath cleared the ball out of danger. Alwang finished the contest with three saves and her ninth shutout of the season, while Washington’s Emma Greenfield didn’t make a save. 
Alwang, back Rose Evans, Simone Ameer and senior midfielder Clare Robinson were named to the all-tournament team.
Kim praised Clare Robinson, an All-American, and the other Panther seniors, DiCenso, a midfielder; midfielders Amanda Dafonte, Abigail Blyler and Alex Barber; and All-American defender Janie DeVito.
“Any team that gets this far relies on the leadership of its senior class,” Kim said. “They have led by example. They’ve led on and off the field. They’ve got talent, they’ve got personality, and they’ve got the hardest work rate of anyone I know.”

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