It was an up and down week for the Panthers. While the Middlebury women’s soccer team secured the top seed in the NESCAC tournament with a 3-1 away win against Williams on Wednesday, Oct. 24, its short run in the tournament ended just days later on Saturday, Oct, 27 after a 2-0 upset against eighth-seeded Wesleyan in the quarterfinal.
Against Williams, the Panthers controlled the game from the outset with fine-tuned passing. Their first goal came in the 14th minute when Julia Favorito ’14 converted Scarlett Kirk’s ’14 cross from the left sideline, first controlling the ball with her head and then sending it over opposing keeper Laura Wann. Despite outshooting the Ephs by 6-3 in the opening frame, the score remained 1-0 after 45 minutes.
Williams started the second half strong by leveling the score in the 52nd minute by way of a powerful strike from Carla Nicasio. Though Williams played with renewed energy, Middlebury kept pushing for a winner.
The breakthrough came 13 minutes later on a Middlebury counterattack. Kirk, named NESCAC Player of the Week with goals in three straight contests, cemented herself as the Panthers’ leading scorer after tucking the ball in the net past the oncoming Williams goalkeeper.
“Everyone on our team has her role, and considering that I play forward, one of my roles is to score, assist or be involved in the goals we score. By scoring I feel like I am playing my part on the team,” Kirk said.
The Ephs nearly tied the game just minutes after, as Crystal Lewin was able to get three shots off in Middlebury’s 18-yard box, but the ball ricocheted off Panthers defenders before Elizabeth Foody ’14 cleared the lines.
Kirk completed her brace with the game’s final goal in the 71st minute. After Favorito forced a turnover in the midfield, she played the ball through to Kirk who was able to loft the ball over a solitary Wann.
After the game against Williams, Middlebury went into its NESCAC quarterfinal feeling confident. However, Wesleyan shocked them just three minutes into the game. After Kerry Doyle sent the ball in Middlebury’s box from a free kick, the ball bounced in front of Foody before Isabel Clements was able to control the ball down and place a high shot into the net.
Wesleyan was quiet for the rest of the half as Middlebury pressed for an equalizer. The Panthers applied pressure on Cardinals players, making sure they were given little time on the ball and forced to make mistakes.
Middlebury almost had their breakthrough in the 30th minute as Kirk headed the ball just over the bar from Claire Nishioka’s ’15 cross. Just minutes later Kirk was again denied a goal after a save from Jessica Tollman.
The Panthers continued to pick up momentum in the second half and created many opportunities, but lacked the finishing touch. The 65th minute marked a golden chance for the team, when Kirk found space on the edge of the box and fired a left-footed strike that rattled the post.
Middlebury also tried to capitalize on their numerous corners throughout the game. Kirk twice headed the ball just over the bar after getting open in the box off of corner kicks.
Although much of the final period was played in Wesleyan’s half, the Cardinals doubled their score in 80th minute against the run of play. Foody was unable to stop Laura Kurash’s shot from the edge of the box, and the ball sailed into the top left corner.
“This is not how we wanted the playoffs to turn out for us,” said co-captain Amy Schlueter ’13.
The Panthers’ attacking frustration was compounded by the fact that they outshot Wesleyan 22-4. Furthermore, it was only the second game of the season where Middlebury failed to score.
The Panthers must now play a waiting game until Nov. 5 to see whether the NCAA selection committee will extend their season.
“We’ll need to process Saturday’s events, put them behind us, then get back to the business of preparing for the best possible competition next week,” coach Peter Kim said. “It’s easy to over-think these things, when in reality we’re a good team who had a bad game. We just need to persevere, and keep our fingers crossed that the work we’ve put into this season earns us an at-large bid.”