Women's soccer shuts out Colby, is now No. 1
MIDDLEBURY — A year after a NESCAC playoff championship followed by a run to the NCAA Division III final, the Middlebury College women’s soccer team is right back at it this fall.
This past Saturday’s 4-0 victory over league rival Colby moved the Panthers to 10-0-1 and allowed them to retain their status as the NESCAC’s only undefeated team — and moved them up to No. 1 in this week’s NCAA D-III poll. The Panthers will look to keep rolling when they host Trinity at 11 a.m. on Saturday and visit Amherst on Sunday.
More importantly, said Coach Peter Kim after the win over Colby (4-5-2, 1-5-2 NESCAC), his team continues to improve, especially on the attack — Saturday’s four goals followed a five-goal output at Bates a week before.
“We scored good goals. We worked together. I thought our pressing game was working quite well against them (Colby),” Kim said. “We got a lot of chances in their half that we weren’t getting earlier in the season.”
Midfielder Virginia Charman — the only senior who started on Saturday — said the Panthers can put so much pressure on their opponents because of their depth and their coach’s willingness to use it. Against Colby, 23 Panthers took the field, and even in their one tie, vs. Hamilton, 20 Panthers played.
“He likes to sub the most out of any team. And we did that last year, and we do that this year, and it works really well,” Charman said. “We also have a really deep team. Anyone who comes in off the bench is going to bring up the level.”
Charman said the Panthers also put in the effort required to get better, to improving their touch, ball movement and understanding of their system.
“Everybody’s just been working really, really hard on our first touch and really connecting and making those passes,” she said. “I don’t think that’s something you see with every single team. Because we all connect no matter how many are subbed.”
Certainly, the Panthers dominated possession vs. Colby, and won the ball back quickly when they lost it. Three of their goals came on strong assists, and the first, from junior striker Eliza Van Voorhis, came in the third minute.
That play started from junior central midfielder Eliza Robinson, who lofted a ball to sophomore right midfielder Ellie Bavier. Bavier controlled a tough bounce, turned and fired a waist-high serve to about 10 feet out from the near post, where the charging Van Voorhis volleyed it into the right side.
Junior striker Simone Ameer made it 2-0 at 19:20, receiving a diagonal feed from junior left middie Gretchen McGrath as she cut into the box from right between two defenders, taking a touch, and then unloading a shot inside the left post.
The Panthers won a corner kick eight minutes later. Robinson drove it from the right into a knot of players on the near side, and senior middie Olivia Miller, in off the bench, won the ball in the scramble and finished from close range.
Colby then began to come on a little bit. Mule forward Kerrie Verbeek collected a loose ball and ripped an 18-yard shot that Panther goalie Eva Shaw dove to her right to gather, although it appeared to be going wide, but represented the Mules’ only threat of the half.
The Panthers reasserted themselves after the break. In the 12th minute sophomore left back Rose Evans sent Ameer into the box with a clever through ball, and Ameer finished cleanly for her team-high eighth goal.
Down the stretch Robinson hit the crossbar, and Mule second-half goalie Shannon Gray denied senior Ellie Greenberg and sophomore Cate Shellenback, among others. Gray made seven saves in the second half after Dani Lonati made four in the first. Shaw made six and had to dive to her right with 25 minutes to go on a low drive from Mule Ellie Hankin. The Panthers had edges of 28-7 in shots and 7-1 in corner kicks.
The Panther defense of Evans on the left, junior Isabelle Hartnett in the middle and sophomore Elise Morris on the right stepped up to help the midfielders control play and once again provided smart, tenacious defense in front of the Panther goal, which most often has been guarded by senior Ursula Alwang.
The Panthers posted their fifth straight shutout and have allowed just three goals this fall. Kim praised his defense.
“They’re developing confidence in one another, and they’re gelling as a group,” he said.
He attributed the team’s improvement to better depth and “more players coming into their own,” but said the Panthers still need to improve their attack with tough games vs. Tufts and Williams ahead.
“I think we have a lot better soccer ahead of us still,” Kim said. “We have the technical ability to connect passes all the way to the goal. I think some of our point-blank shots are right at the goalkeeper for no reason, and we could have been a little more clinical in our finishing.”
Charman agreed about the scoring but said the Panthers would put in the work to improve. And, yes, they are confident that they have the ability to make another deep postseason run.
“Definitely, I have no doubt,” she said. “I think that we are more than capable of going all the way, and everyone wants that.”