After losing 2-0 to Bates on Saturday, Oct. 24, the Middlebury women’s soccer team’s possibility of making the NESCAC playoffs was in jeopardy. They were able to qualify for the tournament by beating Williams 2-0 on Tuesday, Oct. 27 in the last game of regular season, and then came from behind to beat Amherst 3-2 on Saturday, Oct. 30 in the NESCAC quarterfinals to secure a semifinal spot against Williams.
Bates snapped the Panthers seven game unbeaten streak. The Bobcats, riding the momentum from a draw with Amherst, controlled the game early. They were rewarded for their efforts in the 32nd minute, when Allison Hill sent a corner ball into the box that found the head of Karen Lockhart. The Bobcat striker was able to rise up above the Middlebury defense and place the ball in the back of the net.
Middlebury came out of halftime the better side, but none of their seven shots on goal were able to find the back of the net. Hill was the hero yet again by blocking a Panther shot in the 72nd minute to keep her team in front. Bates added insult to injury in the 83rd minute, when a cross from Olivia Amdur fell at the feet of Leah Humes, who doubled her team’s lead.
The Panthers were without Head Coach Peter Kim who stayed in Middlebury to await the birth of his second child and watched the game online from home.
“I feel like we just got too tracked into forcing passes,” Kim said. “[Bates] played really well, especially defensively, but we really didn’t finish our chances.”
With their hopes of a place in the NESCAC championship playoffs hanging by a thread, Middlebury looked to bounce back at home against Williams. However, this looked to be no easy task; Williams was currently undefeated in the conference with an unbeaten streak running 33 games long and ranked fourth nationally.
The Panthers didn’t seem to be daunted by the possibility of this challenge, and came out fighting. Jamie Soroka’s ’16 effort in the 25th minute from a free kick was just tipped over the crossbar by Eph’s keeper Tressa Palcheck. Williams threatened as well, when Madison Feeney’s shot was just saved by Kate Reinmuth ’17.
The two teams went into the second half still locked at 0-0. Williams looked to be the stronger team in the opening stages, but Reinmuth foiled a pair of chances from Abby Mors. The Panthers soon grew into the game, however, and continued to push for the game winner.
The breakthrough came in the 80th minute when Rebecca Palacios ’18 scored the first goal of her career. Amanda Dafonte ’19 found herself with some room on the right side before sending a cross that Palacios one-touched into the back of the net.
The Panthers refused to let go of their grip on the match and held off a William’s last offensive effort. They even gave themselves some breathing room with two minutes left on the clock, when Amanda Hotvedt ’17 connected with Dafonte’s cross into the righthand corner.
“We know [Williams] very well and they’re a familiar opponent,” Kim said. “So we made sure we were aware of their tendencies and we played to our strengths. We defended really well as well as transitioning to attack and I believe that the score probably could have been higher.”
Riding high, the sixth-seeded Middlebury was able to knock off third-seeded Amherst in an exhilarating match. The Lady Panthers suffered a tragedy after the Williams game with the loss of one of the Lady Panther’s father. The team came into the match with even more focus and determination.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard early, when Alissa Huntington ’18 fired in a shot from point-blank range just 10 minutes in. Amherst, however, responded eight minutes later when Emily Hester was brought down in the box. Ashlyn Heller stepped up and calmly slotted the penalty kick past Reinmuth. After the two goals, neither team could make much progress out of their own half, as the game evolved into a battle of the midfields. The Lord Jeffs found a way through in the 37th minute when Rachael Abernethy pounced on a rebound and one-touched the ball into the goal.
The Panthers were far from defeated, and came out in the second half looking to respond. They didn’t wait very long before Katherine Hobbs ’17 beat a defender and released the trigger on a shot from just outside the box, sending the ball flying over keeper Holly Burwick’s outstretched arms.
The winner came in the form of NESCAC Player of the Week Hotvedt, who scored the deciding goal with just 22 seconds remaining on the clock. The Panthers had moved the ball quickly up the field, when Hobbs sent a ball behind Amherst’s backline for Hotvedt to chase. The junior quickly touched the ball past the Amherst keeper and sent the ball into an open net.
“Scoring the final goal in our NESCAC quarterfinal game against Amherst felt so amazing,” Hotvedt, who earned NESCAC player of the week for her efforts, said. “The entire game was a full team effort, which really made the difference.”
The Panthers now gear up for a semi-final rematch against Williams this Saturday, Nov. 7.
“We beat Williams a week ago, and we’ll beat them again,” Hotvedt said. “There’s no better opponent than the no. 1 seed, and we’re ready to knock them right off their pedestal.“