MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s soccer team earned its third trip to the NCAA Division III tournament’s Sweet 16 since 2004 on Sunday, when the host Panthers turned aside Wheaton in a regional final, 2-1.
Before the 14-3-2 Panthers won on Sunday, their most recent berth had been in 2006, when the team’s current seniors were freshmen. Senior midfielder Lindsay Walker, who scored Sunday’s first goal, said the team wants to advance further after the program lost in the first round in earlier sectional visits.
“Our freshman year we reached the Sweet 16, and it’s been our goal to get past there and beat the school record,” Walker said. “So we’re really excited. It’s a pretty big deal.”
The game moved to the Middlebury men’s soccer artificial turf because of mud on the women’s field, prompting a contrast in styles. Wheaton (18-4-2) relied on the powerful legs of its backs, notably senior Lyndsey McManus, to bypass the midfield and loft balls directly into the Panther box. Walker said Middlebury defenders Anjuli Demers in the middle, Jenny Galgano on the left, and the tag team of Valerie Christy and Lucy Wagner on the right reacted well to the aerial assault by dropping back quickly and then stepping up to the ball.
“They were a strong, physical team and very good in the air. So for us to win those big headers ... off the big kicks they had was big-time for us,” Walker said.
Meanwhile, Middlebury coach Peter Kim said the Panthers played their best when they remembered to use their skills and field vision to possess the ball and build their attack. Their ball-control approach helped set up both goals and regain control when Wheaton was pressing for the tying goal in the second half.
“In the heat of the moment in the NCAA tournament, sometimes you forget how good you are, and this team can definitely play soccer and really piece passes together,” Kim said. “And once we reminded ourselves of that, then they really, I think, turned the tide of the game.”
Walker’s goal came in the 16th minute after a combination of a strong serve from Kirsten Lundquist from the right side and pressure from Annie Rowell forced a corner kick.
Lundquist took the kick, and it sailed long to Margaret Owen to the left of the goal. She left-footed a serve to the center of the goal, and the charging Walker nailed a header high into the net.
Wheaton answered in the 32nd minute. Emily Vincunas fed Cassey Muse at the top of the box, directly out from the left post. Muse one-touched the ball to her left to the streaking Rosie Levy. Levy went in alone on Panther goalie Lauryn Torch and chipped it in over her head.
The Panthers broke on top with 4:35 gone in the second half. Lundquist controlled at the top right of the box and took a defender on one-on-one and won the battle. She took a hard, 15-yard shot that Wheaton goalie Lindsay Leddy (two saves) deflected high to the left, where the onrushing Paola Cabonargi was ready to slam a header home.
Wheaton controlled play for the next 15 minutes. Demers blocked a shot by Emily Hough, who had scored twice in Wheaton’s 2-0 Saturday win over Richard Stockton. The Lyons also earned two direct kicks, but middie Katie Ruymann cleared one away, and Rowell came back to head the other out.
The Panthers then re-established their possession game — Ruymann, Owen, Walker and Drew Smith all fared well at midfield. The Lyons ended up with an 8-6 edge in shots, but few dangerous chances.
But Torch had to make one tough save. McManus lined up for a 30-yard direct kick, and struck it into the Panther wall. It bounced back to McManus, and she pounded a shot that forced Torch to dive and push wide right in the 36th minute.
Kim praised Torch (three saves) and his defense for holding up under Wheaton’s direct, but dangerous assault.
“It was a battle of mental toughness for us, because they had some big guns on their team. They could hit the ball harder and further than anyone we’ve ever played,” he said. “The fact that we held it together and defended everything that came, I think that was the key to the match.”
Next up for the Panthers will be Johns Hopkins (18-3) at a site and time that had yet to be announced late on Sunday. Walker said the Panthers can go where no Middlebury women’s soccer team has gone before if they remain poised and remember what they do best.
“We are a talented team. We just have to stay composed,” she said. “When we stay composed we are very successful.”
On Saturday, the Panthers scored three goals in a span of 3:44 in the first half on the way to a 6-0 win over Husson (15-6) in the first round.
The Panthers began their three-goal run in the 36th minute. Amy Schlueter opened the scoring, finishing off a scramble after Rowell headed a corner kick toward the goal. Rowell added the next two goals, on feeds from Devin Perkins and Lundquist.
In the first minute of the second half Schlueter scored in transition from Owen. At 70:55, Hannah Newman slide to one-time a Cabonargi serve from the left wing, and Cabonargi capped the scoring five minutes later, with an assist going to Newman.
Middlebury ended with a 19-4 lead in shots. Torch made one save in 58 minutes, and backup Jocelyn Remmert made two in 32 minutes, one a tough stop. Jen Plourde made four stops for Husson.