Unfortunately, the Amherst steamroller collided with an even larger one from top-seeded Wheaton, as the Jeffs lost a 3-2 heartbreaker decided in the closing minutes of Sunday’s final. The 23-1 Lyons were winners of 58 of their last 59 games at home and sixth in the nation in scoring, at 4.18 goals per game. They oustshot the Jeffs 29-13, but barely squeaked into the national quarterfinals on an 86th-minute goal from All-American Tracy Prihoda.
Wheaton, having beaten Amherst 1-0 in early October, opened the match with a furious offensive flurry. Amherst goalie Piper Crowell ’07 just prevented a second-minute goal by snaring a blast off the foot of Prihoda, and had to defend against six Wheaton scoring opportunities before the Jeffs got their first shot off in the 20th minute.
“We weathered quite a storm in the first 15 minutes before settling down nicely,” said co-head coach Andrew Jones ’00. “Wheaton plays a very direct style, relying on their three strikers to create most of their opportunities. Those three players work hard to receive the ball and they are just better than most of the back they play against. Tracy Prihoda is a handful.”
Prihoda proved to be more than a handful for the Jeffs at 27:22, when she sprinted around the Amherst defense, collected a cross from Jordan Pouliot, and booted it into the bottom right corner of the goal to give the Lyons a 1-0 lead.
Wheaton looked ready to run away with the contest, dominating the initial play with confidence in their second in-the-nation goals-against average of 0.181.
The Jeffs bounced back quickly however, seizing the opportunity created by a mistake by Lyons’ goalkeeper Jessica Broomhead, who left the 18-yard box to save a loose ball. NESCAC Player of the Year Ashley Harmeling ’05 alertly restarted play before Broomhead had a chance to recover, passing to forward Tracy Montigny ’05, who tied the game with the empty-netter.
“Our first goal was the result of hard work and quick thinking by Ashley. The quick restart caught them off guard and Tracy placed her shot well,” observed Jones.
With the match deadlocked 1-1 and less than 30 seconds remaining in the half, Wheaton struck again. Several quick passes off a free kick found an open Teresa Lebel, who sent the ball past an outstretched Crowell into the upper right of the net for a 2-1 halftime lead.
After a last-minute letdown to end the first half, Amherst opened the second with an aggressive offensive attack, scoring just seven minutes into the period. Montigny tallied her second goal of the game, completing a tricky spin move to free herself in the box before tucking a rocket just inside the upper right corner of the goal. Adrienne Showler ’05 provided the assist.
Having given up two goals in a single game for the first time this season, Wheaton quickly stepped up its offensive pressure. The Lyons wanted to avoid going to overtime against an experienced Jeffs’ squad which was undefeated in three postseason overtime matches.
Amherst’s defense managed to hold off repeated Wheaton attacks for over 30 minutes after Montigny’s tying goal.
“Our back four and goalkeeper did an excellent job defensively, and as a collective group. It was by far their best game of the season,” said co-head coach Kate Shipley.
Amherst’s best did not prove strong enough, as Wheaton kept the ball on the Jeffs’ net until finally breaking through at 85:52. Prihoda, a two-time All-American who finished 12th in the nation with 2.95 points per game, scored her second goal of the match off a rebound from a shot by Beth Caromile to give Wheaton a 3-2 lead.
“We were hanging on the last 15 minutes of the game,” said Jones. “We just couldn’t relieve the pressure from our end and eventually it caught up to us.”
The Lyons controlled the ball to run out the final minutes of the match and narrowly escape a terrific Amherst effort. Wheaton goes on to play The College of New Jersey on Nov. 23 in the NCAA quarterfinals, while Amherst ended its season with a record of 12-4-4.
“Wheaton is used to scoring five or six goals a game and we managed to hold them to three, while also scoring two on them, which is the most they’ve been scored on all season,” said Shipley. “The whole team came out and played with intensity and passion, and it was a great all-around effort; they left everything on the field and we’re proud of them.”
In order to advance to the finals, Amherst had defeated Bridgewater State College on Wednesday, Nov. 12. In the semifinals on Saturday, Amherst rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to beat Endicott College 2-1 on a Harmeling overtime goal.
After a below-average first half against Endicott and several missed opportunities early in the second, Montigny tied the match late in the game on a Harmeling assist at 84:05. Harmeling scored the unassisted game-winner two minutes into the overtime period, sending a deep shot into the upper right corner of the net for the victory and a rendez-vous with Wheaton.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” said Jones after the Wheaton loss. “It’s a very resilient group. We were in many tight situations and close games, but we kept battling and we found a way. Even though we didn’t advance on Sunday, this team has an awful lot to be proud of.”
With a Little Three victory, the NESCAC championship and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAAs, the Jeffs can hold their heads high as they take some time off and prepare for 2004.