In the quarterfinal round of the 2017 Nescac Championship this past Saturday, October 28, the Middlebury women’s soccer team fell to the Hamilton Continentals in a hard-fought 1–0 defensive battle. The Panthers came into the first-round game as the number three seed in the tournament, the Continentals as the number six; earlier in the season on September 17, the two teams had played out a 1–1 double-overtime tie. However, Hamilton’s victory this time around bounced the Panthers from the tournament, leaving them to wait until next Monday, Nov. 6 to hear if they’ll receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Peter Kim gave credit where credit was due in assessing the match. “On Saturday we played against a strong defensive team,” he said. “Going down a goal early in the game meant that we had to chase the game for 87 minutes, but we did create a enough chances to at least tie the game. However, we didn’t capitalize on the clear-cut opportunities to score, and turned the ball over unnecessarily throughout the match.”
As Kim alluded, the Continentals took advantage of a misplayed ball in the Middlebury penalty area to score just 2:28 into the first period. The rest of the half was relatively evenly matched as both teams did their best to create scoring chances, the Panthers firing off seven more shots to Hamilton’s four. In the 32nd minute, midfielder Virginia Charman ’20 had a well-placed shot on goal from about 15 yards out that the Continental keeper managed to knock away with a diving save.
Eager to make up ground, Middlebury came out on the attack in the second period, and the record showed it: their ten shot attempts to the Continentals’ four in the half was a good indicator of their control in terms of possession. Charman had another good scoring opportunity that she just barely failed to convert, her header caught by the Hamilton goalie. Later, as the clock wound down, the Panthers had one last scoring opportunity when Clare Robinson ’19 sent a header just right of the goal on a set piece. At the final buzzer, the score still stood at 1–0 in Hamilton’s favor.
This game was an especially tough one for the Panthers, especially in comparison to their stunning victory over Williams the week prior. The Ephs had come into that contest ranked third in the nation; the Panthers, coming off a 5-0 drubbing of Bates just a few days before, couldn’t have cared less as they secured a 1–0 victory.
“We actually should have scored two against Williams,” said Kim, “as we were inexplicably denied a penalty kick after Ellie [Greenberg ’20] was hauled down in the box while on a breakaway. Our possession wasn’t great in that game, but that was partly due to the crazy weather conditions.
“On Saturday [against Hamilton], however, turnovers and failure to capitalize on goal-scoring opportunities ultimately led to our demise.”
Moving forward, Middlebury will hope for an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA national championship tournament, to be decided by the selection committee next Monday; in the meantime, they’ll remain at home while the Nescac tournament wraps up next weekend in Williamstown, Mass.
That’s not to say that the Panthers will just be sitting around, though. Captain Alissa Huntington ’18 explained that Middlebury will prepare with every expectation of being included in the NCAA tourney. “We’ll continue to train in hopes of seeing the results we want,” she said. “We’re really hopeful, and right now all that we can do is keep the mentality that our season will continue and try to fix the issues that hurt us in the Nescac tournament.
“If we get a second chance, I think the most important part is taking on each game of the tournament knowing it could be the last of our season, or for the seniors, our college careers.”