November 30, 2018

Middlebury upsets Washington U. to reach Final

Other Semifinal Recaps:  Women's Semifinal 2 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2
 Middlebury's Olivia Miller, tracked by Kristen Reikersdorfer of WashU, sends a pass forward.

By D3soccer.com Contributor

Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

The Washington U. Bears entered the game as a solid but not overwhelming favorite. They were the No. 1 ranked team most of the season; they were unbeaten and untied over 21 games against a challenging schedule; finished atop the highly regarded UAA; and dominated statistically 521 shots to their opponents 67 and on the scoreboard outscoring the opposition 62 to 5. But the Middlebury Panthers were going to provide, as is befitting for a National Semifinal, their stiffest challenge to date. Middlebury finished the season as our No. 3 ranked team; went 1-1-0 against last year’s champion and return Final Four participant Williams; finished second in the equally well regarded NESCAC; won the NESCAC tournament and outscored opponents 50-10.

In a defensive midfield-oriented contest quite unlike the earlier men’s semifinals, the Washington U. Bears fell short in their bid to become the fourth unbeaten/untied women’s champion as they were upset 0-1 by the Middlebury Panthers. Entering the match, this felt like a 1-0 affair; after the first quarter of the contest, it felt like a 1-0 result. At the half, it still seemed that one goal would win it. In somewhat of a surprise as the Bears appeared to have a slight edge for much of the first half, at 42:26 of the second stanza it was 1-0, but it was the underdog who was on top. The Bears found themselves down for the first time all season. Less than a minute later, the Bears had an early chance at leveling but for long stretches the Panthers held their own and rather than bunker in, pressed forward for opportunities to extend their lead. WashU gradually upped the pressure as they started pushing players forward for an equalizer and began creating a few chances, the most dangerous in the 82nd minute turned away by an excellent save by the Middlebury keeper

 First Half

The Bears opened the game well, quickly advancing to the Panther 18 and earned two quick corners. WashU got a shot off the first but it went harmlessly wide. Middlebury worked to the halfway line but stalled. After a Panther foul, Bears’ keeper Emma Greenfield, sent a free kick from near midfield into the box that Christ headed but was unable to get on frame. After the first ten minutes or so with a slight edge to the Bears, the Panthers began to settle in. Now the game became a midfield contest with neither side able to gain the upper hand.

Serious injuries in the 14th minute and the 23rd led to lengthy stoppages in play, and neither player was able to return in the match. Obviously, a great misfortune for both young women and we hope they recover quickly, but stoppages added to the choppiness in play. Quite unlike both men’s semifinals, wide open offensive affairs, this was shaping up as a midfield battle with limited attacking play.

After play resumed, WashU was awarded a direct free kick from a dangerous spot. An excellent service afforded the Bears what looked to be the first real threat, but the header missed right and would have been negated by an offside in any case. In the 22nd minute a Jessica Kovach shot straight at the Middlebury keeper Alwang took an unexpected skip which led to her bobbling the ball, but she was able to fall on it before any Bears attackers followed up.

The Panthers started to create some offense. First, a semi-breakaway off a counter but nothing came of it. Then a few minutes later they earned a corner kick. An excellent service landed inside the six and presented Greenfield with her first difficulty of the contest, but it bounced harmlessly over the heads of two attackers positioned at the far post. After another period of back and forth in the midfield, WashU had another solid opportunity off a set piece. Cunningham sent in a pretty ball to the far corner of the six, but the Middlebury defense did well and cleaned up the danger.For th

For the first half, at least two thirds of play, maybe a bit more, was between the 18’s. Neither side able was able to grab hold of the game for any meaningful stretches, nor able generate much in the way of attacking play and dangerous opportunities.  The first half scoreline reflected that:  Shots (SoG) 4(1) – 1(0); 2-1 CK’s for WashU – Middlebury respectively.

Middlebury celebrates after they take the lead early in the second half.

 Second Half

With this looking very much like one goal would win it and refreshed from the break both sides came out very hard. After an early Middlebury foul, WashU advanced past the halfway line with Kristen Reikersdorfer firing a long-range shot wide right just 50 seconds into the half. After the goal kick, the Panthers surged forward to the Bears 18 but were thwarted by the WashU defense. After a bit of back and forth in the midfield, Middlebury gained possession, and after a couple of passes, Amanda Dafonte collected near the right touchline just past midfield. She sent a long diagonal ball to Gretchen McGrath at the far corner of the 18. Her popup found Ellie Greenburg near the penalty spot.  Greenburg headed it backward to an oncoming Simone Ameer who curled a perfectly placed ball just off the far post where Bears’ keeper Greenfield had absolutely no chance. McGrath and Greenburg earned deserved assists, but Dafonte’s ball initiated the opportunity.

The Bears found themselves in an unfamiliar position as this was the first time they trailed all fall. But not surprisingly, they pressed immediately from the restart and nearly equalized just a minute later when a Panther defended whiffed a cross into the six passing in just in front of Alwang. A defender tapped it away from the line, and Alwang was able to dive on the loose ball.

Play was even for the next several minutes, once again mostly in the midfield until the 56th minute.  Wash U strung together several passes from their left defensive third leading to an excellent cross from Cunningham to an onrushing Cohen, but Alwang interceded. Given WashU’s prolific offense and a third of the contest remaining Middlebury chose not to pack it in. They nearly paid the price in the 61st as the Bears had a dangerous counter-attack was halted by an excellent recovery by the Panther defense

With Taylor Cohen of WashU in hot pursuit, Virginia Charman advances with the ball

Neither side managed to connect more than a couple of passes nor reach their offensive third for many minutes. With around 20 minutes remaining, WashU began to commit more players forward and putting pressure on the Middlebury defense. This opened up a few semi-threatening counters by the Panthers but not serious threats. The game nearly changed with 15 minutes left as the Bears fired off three shots in quick succession. The most dangerous play came when Alwang popped up a punch and pushed down a Bear while trying to retrieve. Quite likely, nervous thoughts were running through the minds of Middlebury supporters, but the referee quickly waved no foul and play proceeded.

Just a few minutes later, the Bears were in the Panthers eighteen once again. A Cohen back heel pass to Cunningham running in from the penalty spot missed her but nearly fooled Alwang. WashU has all the momentum now, and Middlebury is mostly in its defensive third with ten behind the ball. With ten minutes to go, Christ blasts a long-range missile that just misses the upper right corner. This was quickly followed by WashU’s most dangerous chance of the contest. Christ got on the end of a corner kick from Caroline Dempsey and dumped it to the far corner on the goal line where a diving Alwang made a fantastic save. The Panthers hung from there preventing any Bears’ shots until a futile long range desperation effort by Wash U with just seconds remaining.

As they had all season, WashU won on the stat sheet 12(3) – 3(1); 4-1 CK’s but fell short on the only statistic that matters.  The Bears set a single season record for wins, and the eight seniors had amazing careers with a 77-8-5 (0.883) overall record featuring four UAA titles, three Final Fours, and the 2016 NCAA Division III National Championship.

The Panthers now 19-1-3 (0.854) extended their single-season record-setting win total and advance to their first NCAA Championship match in program history. They will face NESCAC rival Williams for the third time this season. Both sides won earlier this year by identical 1-0 scores.

 


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Other Semifinal Recaps:  Women's Semifinal 2 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2
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