Women's soccer begins turnaround

After dropping early matches to Connecticut College and Tufts University and barely salvaging a tie against Bates College, the Lord Jeffs have won four of their last five, including three consecutive NESCAC contests. This moves them into sixth place in the conference and only one game out of a five-team first-place tie.

The inconsistency and miscommunication that plagued a young Amherst squad during its five-game opening road trip vanished on Sept. 27, when the Jeffs upset then-23rd-ranked Bowdoin 3-1 at home for their first NESCAC win.

“The Bowdoin game was a turning point,” said Co-Head Coach Andrew Jones ’00. “Heading into the game, we were 0-2-1 in the conference. If we lose and fall to 0-3-1, things look pretty grim. However, we responded with the best team effort of the season.”

Rookie goalkeeper Jeanette Crowell ’07 and the Amherst backfield came up with its most crucial performance of the season to hold Bowdoin scoreless for most of the match.

Nonplussed by the Lord Jeffs’ aggressive defense, the Polar Bears came back to tie the game on a corner kick header from Michal Shapiro at 84:00, and it appeared that Amherst’s first conference victory would be put on hold for at least another week.

In the furious closing rally that ensued and yielded a 3-1 victory, the Jeffs discovered an intensity and a confidence in each other that they had lacked in the season’s first six contests. Forward Margaret Chute ’06 nailed the game-winner at 87:23 and Ashley Harmeling ’05, the NESCAC’s leading scorer, added her second goal of the game for insurance in the final minute as the Amherst sideline erupted.

“The exciting win against Bowdoin proved that we are a mature team, one that is able to come back to win the game after being scored upon,” said tri-captain midfielder Jenny Rossman ’04.

The Jeffs built on the NESCAC momentum they captured in the Bowdoin win by blanking 20th-ranked Middlebury College 2-0 and topping Colby College 2-1 on consecutive weekends.

The win at Middlebury marked Crowell’s first career shutout, and came on the heels of a tremendous 14-save performance in an encouraging 1-0 loss to non-conference opponent Wheaton College, ranked fifth in the nation, earlier that week.

“Piper’s performance was phenomenal as usual and we couldn’t have pulled off the Middlebury game without her,” said tri-captain midfielder Kay Bradley ’04.

“[Crowell] has done a nice job stepping in as a freshman,” observed Jones. “She’s assertive and her activity level is high. Most importantly, our team is confident with her in the goal.”

Amherst defeated Colby this past Saturday with 10 saves from Crowell and a decisive unassisted goal from Harmeling, who has 11 on the season and is on pace to break the team record of 16 currently held by Cathy Poor ’02.

Harmeling, who spent her freshman year at Harvard University before transferring, has been the focal point of the Amherst attack. “Ashley’s nose for the goal and her aggressive on field presence have been a key part of our offensive success,” said Rossman.

Amherst’s star forward collected a hat trick on three assists from Sarah Coleman ’06 in the first 18 minutes of a 4-2 win against Springfield College on Sept. 25, and has been just as unstoppable against conference foes. Jones attributes Harmeling’s terrific play to her practice habits. “She understands that in order to consistently play at a high level, you must train hard every day,” he said. “Her focus has improved from last season, and she is seeing results.”

Harmeling credits much of her performance to the passing and ball control of a vastly improved midfield, and to the “relentless effort and domineering presence” of the defensive four of Elizabeth Foley ’07, Lyn Wojcik ’06, Allyson Heady ’06 and Mary Sarro-Waite ’05.  “Anything I’ve done well has been completely due to my teammates,” she said.

Harmeling’s brand of modesty is easily found in her fellow players, and is indicative of the way the Lord Jeffs have gelled since their first home games against Springfield and Bowdoin.

“Our team had difficulty meshing at the beginning of the year,” explained Jones. “While it is unusual to play your first five games on the road, that’s not an excuse. We’ve begun to play better as a team, and part of that is simply becoming more comfortable with one another. We’ve started playing for each other. That can go a long way.”

That comfort level was not evident early on, as a young Amherst squad with only four seniors on the roster was outshot 20-11 and looked confused and hesitant in a 3-1 loss at Conn. to open the season. It was déjà vu all over again a week later when Tufts outshot Amherst 22-9 in a 2-1 win in Medford. Both matches were near-shutouts, and the Jeffs barely managed to salvage some pride on late goals from Harmeling.

The team showed signs of untapped talent and hard-hitting defense in non-conference wins against Smith College, Eastern Connecticut State University and Springfield, but did not put together a complete 90 minutes until facing Bowdoin on their home turf. Since that day, the Lord Jeffs have become a different, more mature team, and have transformed themselves into a NESCAC contender.

“The important thing is to keep the momentum going during the few games we have left,” observed tri-captain midfielder Sara Elkins ’04.  “Our goal is to earn a high enough seed so that we can be at home for our first game of the NESCAC tournament.”

To ensure home-field advantage in the first round, the Jeffs must win two of their last three NESCAC games against Williams and Trinity Colleges and a Wesleyan University squad that has yet to win a conference game.