MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s soccer team opened its season with two disappointments, an overtime loss at Amherst when the Panthers were missing their entire freshman class due to a scheduling conflict, and a weather-shortened tie at Keene State, a game they were dominating.
But since then, the Panthers have looked like the team that played well enough in 2012 to host an NCAA Division III regional, the program’s seventh NCAA appearance.
Middlebury (4-1-1 overall, 2-1 NESCAC) has won four straight, including victories on Saturday and Tuesday against previously undefeated teams, 2-1 at NESCAC foe Bowdoin on Saturday, and 5-0 against visiting Lesley on Tuesday.
Coach Peter Kim said after Tuesday’s convincing win over regionally ranked Lesley (7-1-1) he is happy with the way the Panthers responded to the early adversity, which also included all-American goalie Elizabeth Foody missing time with an injury.
“They’re coming along at a good clip. They had a setback at the beginning against Amherst. We went with half our team, and we dominated the game. We thought we were definitely the better team, and we kind of wore out at the end and made a dumb mistake. I think that was a big mental setback,” Kim said. “So then to come back and climb the ladder, I’m impressed with them.”
On Tuesday, it was apparent early on that Lesley — also an NCAA team in 2012 — could not match up with the Panther midfield’s skill and field awareness. Senior Julia Favorito and sophomore Hannah Robinson in the middle and senior Sarah Noble and junior Ali Olmsberg outside dictated play and set up runs by forwards Scarlett Kirk, a senior, and sophomore Jamie Soroka.
“We have some technically talented players, and most importantly we have a team of players who really know the game,” Kim said. “Our midfield knows they’re the ones that dictate the tempo of the game. With those brains and the really good feet attached on the field, we do quite well with the ball.”
Kirk and Soroka also found room in the Lynx defense, and after an early chance that Kirk fired just wide, Kirk scored the first of her four goals at 7:03 — that performance tied a program record.
The goal came after the Panthers’ second corner kick. The Lynx cleared the original serve in from the right side, but Robinson sent the ball back toward the left post. Soroka won the ball in a scramble with Lesley goalie Emileigh Lloyd (five saves) and a defender, and tapped it back toward Kirk, who knocked it in from close range.
Shortly afterward Olmsberg knocked a ball loose to Kirk, who missed wide in the 11th minute. But five minutes later, Kirk made no mistake on a setup from overlapping defender Moria Sloan, who went to the end line to the left of the goal and gave the ball back to Kirk for a left-footed shot into the lower right corner.
Kim began substituting freely and the chances were slightly fewer, but the Panther territory paid off with a handball and a penalty kick at 2:34, which Robinson buried to make it 3-0.
With the starters back on, Kirk scored twice in the first 10:27 of the second half. Soroka sent her into the box a minute in, and Kirk outworked two defenders and finished high from near the penalty stripe.
Before Kirk struck again, Lesley had its best chance. Marysol Flores picked off a clearing pass and hit the crossbar from long range. Almost all of the few anxious Panther moments came when their short passing game resulted in turnovers or near turnovers. Kim said he believes that issue will iron itself out.
“We’ve just got to take care of the ball. That’s the way that we play, treat the ball well and keep the ball amongst ourselves,” he said. “We’re a new team … Sometimes we make mistakes. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not concerned about it, either. It’s just a matter of getting better.”
Other than that, the Panther starting defense of senior Lindsay Kingston and junior Sophia Kligler in the middle and Sloan and junior Molly Parizeau on the flanks — and their subs — had little trouble protecting Foody, who made one save.
At the other end, Kirk wrapped up the scoring at 55:27, taking a feed from Robinson and finding the right side from the top of the box. Kirk has eight goals this season, and her four goals on Tuesday moved her into second place in program history and were one more than Lesley had surrendered in its first eight games.
“We were happy to score as many as we did. Scarlett continued to break out this season, which is great,” Kim said.
VICTORY OVER BOWDOIN
On Saturday, Favorito scored twice, including the game-winner with 3:29 remaining to lift Middlebury to a 2-1 win at Bowdoin (3-1-1, 2-1-1). The goals were the first given up by the Polar Bears this season.
Favorito’s first goal came at 30:17, when she netted a rebound off an Amy Martin shot that hit the crossbar. Bowdoin equalized on a free kick with seven minutes to go, but Favorito turned at the top of the box and launched a shot into the upper right corner to give Middlebury the win. The Panthers held a 17-10 shots advantage, and Foody made four saves.
Despite the positive results, Kim would not speculate on how good the Panthers can become.
“The only thing we care about is Colby. That’s the next game,” he said. “Soccer is too tragic of a game to forecast anything.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.