After the disappointment of an early exit against Wesleyan in the NESCAC quarterfinal, the women’s soccer team undertook a second chance at tournament play this past weekend as Middlebury hosted an NCAA tournament regional. The Panthers started off well, defeating Castleton State 3-1 on Saturday, Nov. 10 in the regional semifinal. However, the Panthers were not able to advance past the second round, suffering a 1-0 defeat against Misericordia.
On a windy Saturday afternoon, Middlebury and Castleton State started the first half off quietly, battling for possession. While both sides had their chances, Middlebury was the first team to break the deadlock. With nine minutes remaining in the first half, Carter Talgo ’15 sent in the ball from the corner kick, allowing Colby Gibbs ’13 to head it into the top right corner.
The Panthers continued to build up momentum with a strong start to the second half. Middlebury pressed Castleton back deep into its own half with a display of probing passes. They were especially successful up the right hand flank, sending several crosses into the 18-yard box.
Amy Schlueter ’13 came close to adding to the score after cutting in past defenders, but she narrowly curled the ball over the left corner of the goal. Just moments after Schlueter’s chance, Scarlett Kirk’s ’14 chip hit the crossbar after a pass from Julia Favorito ’14.
Given the offensive pressure, Middlebury was able to double its score in the 56th minute. Schlueter cut the ball back for striker Kirk on the edge of the box, who beat her marker before coolly rolling the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
Castleton reacted positively to going 2-0, pulling back a goal in the 64th minute. Castleton’s Costello won the ball 25 yards out, took a touch past the Middlebury defender and unleashed a powerful shot that sailed past Elizabeth Foody ’14.
Despite their lead, the Panthers continued to pile on the pressure, constantly looking to unleash their forward players. Schlueter narrowly missed curling in a ball from a half volley.
Middlebury finished off the scoring recipients of a fortunate bounce. As Hannah Robinson ’16 directed a shot on goal, Jamie Soroka ’16 was unable to get out of the way. The ball bouned off Soroka’s back and wrong-footed Castleton goalkeeper Kaleigh Newton.
The team’s fight and performance sat well with its captains.
“I’m so proud of this team,” co-captain Lucy Wagner ’13 said. “Even after our NESCAC quarterfinal loss, not knowing whether or not we would get a bid, everyone gave it [their] all in practice and we continued to improve as a team. And going into NCAA, we were a different team. A better team. A more united team.”
The Panthers were forced to make a quick turnaround and play Misericordia in the Regional Final just 24 hours later.
Middlebury started off the stronger of the two sides, forcing the Misericordia defenders to make several frantic clearances. Much of the play occurred in the midfield as both teams tried to establish themselves. The play was also especially physical, with both teams exerting aggressive pressure on the ball.
Middlebury, Kirk especially, had a few decent chances. The striker was first played through on the left wing, taking on a defender before Misericordia’s goalkeeper made a good save on her near post. Kirk came close again after controlling a long ball from Favorito, trying to chip it over the oncoming goalkeeper, but was unable to get the power needed.
Despite early Middlebury domination, Misericordia opened the scoring account against the run of play in the 24th minute. Sam Helmstetter latched onto a cross and was able to turn her defender before tucking the ball into the right hand corner.
Despite going down a goal, the Panthers continued to challenge Misericordia. After a quick turn surrounded by defenders, Kirk’s lob narrowly went over the crossbar. The half finished with a scramble in front of the Cougars goal before the ball was cleared off the line.
Misericordia started off the stronger of the two teams in the second half, building on the confidence from their first goal. Helmstetter in particular was a problem for the Middlebury defenders, constantly pressuring them when in possession.
Middlebury created some chances throughout the second half, pressing for an equalizer. Favorito narrowly missed the goal with a powerful strike that sent the Cougars goalkeeper diving to her left. Kirk also created a good opportunity after stealing the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box and driving to the edge of the touchline before unleashing a high shot.
There was a sense of urgency for the Panthers in the final 10 minutes of the game as the team began to pick up pace. They bombarded Misericordia’s box with numerous crosses as the defenders scrappily hung on and even cleared a shot off the line. They were unable to equalize, however, as they went on to lose 1-0.
“Everyone was disappointed that our season came to an end on Sunday, especially because we felt like this group really could have gone all the way in the tournament,” said Maddy Boston ’13. “On Sunday, despite out-shooting and out-playing [Misericordia], we didn’t having any luck in scoring. Sometimes soccer just goes that way.”
Middlebury ends their season with a record of 13-2-2, but great hope for the future.
“Overall, I’m proud of how much hard work and dedication this group brought every day this season,” Schlueter said. “Our ability to demand more of ourselves and each other raised the level at which we played to a new standard for Middlebury women’s soccer. I can’t wait for them go above and beyond that standard next season.”