Women's Semifinal 1 Preview
|Other Previews: Women's Semifinal 2||Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
By BJ Pheasant
NCAA Division III Women's Soccer - National Semifinal 1
Friday, November 30 — 5:00 pm ET
No. 1 Washington U. (21-0-0)
No. 3 Middlebury (18-1-3)
How they reached the Final Four
2018 Statistical Overview
Washington U. Season Review
Entering the tournament, the undefeated and untied Bears were D3soccer.com’s No. 1 ranked team. For the season they have tallied 62 goals off 521 shot attempts while limiting their opponents to 67 shots with a meager five finding the back of the net.
They returned 16 letter winners from 2017, including eight that made at least 10 starts. A pair of 2017 All-Americans in senior midfielders Darcy Cunningham and Maggie Crist and a pair of all-region honorees in junior forward Taylor Cohen and sophomore goalkeeper Emma Greenfield are included in that mix.
Against a very high Strength of Schedule over the course of the season the Bears averaged three goals per game and had 57 assists on their 62 goals. They boast offensive firepower throughout the lineup as 19 players registered goals and assists this season. They were undefeated and untied during regular season and UAA conference play for the first time in program history.
In the NCAA tournament they convincingly dispatched Westminster (Mo.) in the first round 5-0 without allowing their opponent a single shot in the match. In the second round they scored two goals in the first ten minutes, en route to a 3-0 win, besting a quality, CCIW tournament champion, Illinois Wesleyan Titan side that had been ranked several weeks during the season. The second dominating performance of the weekend evidenced by a Shots (SoG) 25(8) – 2(1), CK 9-0 stat line.
In the second weekend Washington U. hosted again and defeated UW-La Crosse, avenging last year’s upset by Eagles in the same round at Chicago, to even the all-time series at two wins apiece. Continuing the prior weekend’s dominance, the stat line read 21(7) – 4(1), CK’s 4-0 and most importantly 3-0 in goals. The Bears have conceded only five goals on the season and two of them are to Wheaton (Ill.) as they defeated the Thunder 2-1 for the second time this fall. This is also the first time in six tries that they have defeated Wheaten in the NCAA tournament. Despite a 17(11)-5(3) shot advantage in the game it took an 87th minute penalty for the Bear's winning margin.
Middlebury Season Review
The Panthers were D3soccer.com’s No. 3 ranked team entering the tournament, the automatic qualifier (AQ) from the NESCAC beating defending national champion Williams in the conference title game and if they make the NCAA Final have a chance for a rubber match between the two programs this season. They made Sweet 16 in 2016 and round of 32 in 2017 while they reached the Final Four in 2013 losing to Trinity (Texas) in the semifinal 2-1. They only graduated four players from the last year’s 12-4-2 team and returned that squad’s top nine point scorers.
The 2018 pre-NCAA season at 15-1-2 was the Panther’s best in the program’s 40-year history surpassing the previous high mark set by the 2013 Final Four group. They more than paid back their sole loss at Williams when they gained the NESCAC tournament championship with a 1-0 victory the Ephs. During the regular season they met three NCAA tournament qualifiers with two of those, advanced to the second weekend. The scoring output was consistent through the season with 50 goals, and 17 players involved in the process, while the defense allowed ten goals, but never more than one in any contest.
In the NCAA tournament First Round they defeated Maine-Farmington soundly by a 4-1 scoreline, corroborated by a Shots (SoG) 51(25) – 2(1); CK 15-0 stat line … although it there may have been some nervous pacing by Panther supporters as the score was knotted at 1 apiece for 14 minutes in the second half. In the Second-Round contest with the Ithaca Bombers, in spite of a favorable 23(9)-6(5) / 6-0 statistical advantage, it was nil-nil through overtime. Penalty kick specialist goal keeper Eva Shaw came off the bench to deny Ithaca three times as Middlebury won 3-0 in PKs to advance. Earlier in November, Shaw also came off the bench to earn a PK shootout win over Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals with two saves.
In the second weekend Middlebury again hosted. In the Sectional semifinal the Panthers advanced past the Swarthmore Garnet 2-0. The 13(9) – 9(2); 2-2 CK stat line exemplified a highly competitive contest that was nil-nil until the 64th minute and still on edge until an 84th minute insurance goal. In the second game of the weekend they earned the programs’ second ticket to the Final Four overcoming the Cougars of Misericordia 1-0 on the strength of junior Ursala Alwang’s 31st career shutout in the top spot on the Panthers all-time shutout list. She also stands second in both save percentage and goals against career average. Befitting a Sectional Final this closely contested match 12(6) – 4(2), 4-2 was not settled until Alwang turned away the Cougars last push in the closing two minutes.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 18)
Players to Watch
Washington U.: #27 M Maggie Crist (Sr.) – 6g, 6a, 2gwg (UAA MVP, All Region 1st Team) | #28 F Taylor Cohen (Jr.) – 15g, 9a, 7gwg (UAA 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #17 M Darcy Cunningham (Sr.) – 7g, 7a, 3gwg (UAA 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #23 D Hannah Menard (Sr.) – 2g, 3a, 2gwg (UAA 2nd Team, All Region 1st Team) | #13 D Gabbie Cesarone (Fr.) (UAA ROY, 2nd Team) | #0 GK Emma Greenfield (So.) – 0.25GAA, 0.783 SvPct (UAA 2nd Team. All Region 1st Team)
Middlebury: #5 M Claire Robinson (Sr.) – 1g, 1a, 1gwg (NESCAC 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #11 D Janie DeVito (Sr.) (NESCAC 1st Team, All Region 1st Team) | #22 F Eliza Van Voorhis (So.) – 8g, 4a, 3gwg (NESCAC 2nd Team, All Region 2nd Team) | #14 D/M Amanda Dafonte (Sr.) – 3a (NESCAC 2nd Team, All Region 2nd Team) | #30 GK Ursala Alwang (Jr.) – 0.39 GAA, 0.899 SvPct (NESCAC 2nd Team, All Region 1st Team)
Given the realities of DIII and geography, conference affiliations aside, there have been no regular season matches between the four women’s semifinalists. Further there is only a single, albeit penultimate, NCAA tournament game between any of these teams, the 2015 National Championship match where the Ephs celebrated their program’s first title, a 1-0 victory over the Bears.
Should the two NESCAC sides both reach the Final they, naturally, share a lengthy history having battled on the pitch at least once annually since 1978 with the Ephs holding 28-18-7 bragging rights. For the seniors, this would be the rubber match as they stand 3-3-0 with the last four finishing at 1-0, two each way.
Both teams had the advantage of hosting the first two weekends of the tournament and will now have to go on the road. To date, both sides have had nine away matches on the schedule going a collective 17-1-0. As is typical of a UAA team, the Bears have been road warriors this season, and have traveled many more miles than the Panthers, but with a single defeat (Middlebury 0-1 at a top tier Williams side) between them, both teams obviously have had excellent years regardless of location.
Middlebury has only had one stumble (to a 'rebuilding' No. 4 Williams in the other Final Four semifinal) and has played three NCAA tournament qualifiers while Washington U. has played seven. The Bears are 6-0-0 against the D3soccer.com Week 10 Top 25 and 13-0-0 against teams in the NCAA Final Regional ranked teams. Correspondingly Middlebury is 4-1-1 (loss at Williams, 1-1 home draw with #15 Amherst) and 9-1-3 versus teams in the NCAA Final Regional Rankings.
Middlebury has played more tight games and this experience would be in their favor if they can slow the Bears prolific offense. Further, the confidence from having a penalty kick specialist on the bench who has won two pressure packed shootouts in the play offs (NESCAC and NCAA) may tip the scales, even to the extent of opening the Bears up to a counter if they press to avoid PK’s. Washington U doesn't play many close games because they own possession and don't allow other teams to shoot. They have scored 62 goals on the season and only allowed their opponents 67 shots.
To the neutral observer, Washington U seemingly has to be the favorite in this game based on their overall dominating performance this season; an unblemished record versus a top schedule marked by overwhelming statistics overall and in nearly every match. But they been pushed and had some near misses, surviving five one goal contests including three that were even until the 88th minute or later. With their season performance the Panthers have demonstrated the quality to challenge the Bears, If it happens to go to 110 minutes, then Middlebury would seem to have the edge. They’ve already been there successfully twice in the last month. They have takers who know they can score and a keeper, specialist Eva Shaw, who has stopped six of the last seven penalties she has faced over two shootouts. It will be interesting to watch and see if they play for the draw. If the Bears score early, then there won't be a choice and we should see a good game.
|Other Previews: Women's Semifinal 2||Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail us.