Women's soccer wins NESCAC championship

The win came on the heels of a 1-1 (3-1 PK) double-overtime shootout victory over third-seeded Williams College on Saturday, and gave Amherst an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Lord Jeffs host Bridgewater State College in the first round of the tournament today at 1 p.m.

Coming off consecutive postseason shootout victories over Williams and Tufts University, and having scored just one goal in their last three games, the Jeffs took an early lead when defender Kaitlin Hill ’06 lobbed a pass from Tracy Montigny ’05 over the head of Bates goalie Lynne Antinarelli into the top left corner of the net.

With her team up 1-0, Harmeling, who had scored Amherst’s only goal against Williams the day before, took over the match. At 30:10, the Jeffs’ star forward tracked down the loose rebound of a near-goal by midfielder Adrienne Showler ’05 and sent it home for her 16th goal of the season. The goal tied the single-season record set by Cathy Poor.

Less than two minutes later, Harmeling struck again netting a perfect corner kick from tri-captain midfielder Jenny Rossman ’04 to give Amherst an insurmountable 3-0 lead.

Harmeling’s pair of goals deflated Bates and energized the Jeffs. Both teams knew that it would be nearly impossible to beat an Amherst squad anchored by goalie Piper Crowell ’07, who has given up just two goals in her last nine matches.

Forward Lee-Jay Henry ’05 capitalized on the Lord Jeffs’ momentum by tacking on a fourth goal at 36:44, effectively finishing off Bates-which had upset first-seeded Bowdoin a day earlier-before the half.

“Our offense was the most efficient it has been all season. Even though Bates outshot us, we finished nearly every opportunity we had to score,” said Harmeling. “There was a chemistry in the final game that had been building all season long and culminated with the unleashing of six goals. The relief of not having to play another very close match also contributed to the offense relaxing, and in turn, scoring more.”

Playing a much looser offensive style than they’d shown earlier in the tournament, Amherst began the second half with the scorers who had ended the first. Henry dribbled through two defenders before dishing off to Harmeling, who was wide open to convert her second hat trick of the season to secure the NESCAC Championship Tournament single-game scoring record.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Ashley came through with that performance,” said co-head coach Andrew Jones ’00. “Her work-rate has been tremendous and as a result, defenses have a difficult time holding her in check for 90 minutes.” Harmeling is the nation’s 25th-leading scorer and her 18 goals lead the NESCAC this season.

Forward Amy Armstrong ’07 scored her first career goal at 75:16 to cap off Amherst’s offensive onslaught.

Crowell made five saves in 81 minutes to preserve her seventh shutout of the season.

“Before the final, we talked about things we needed to do to generate some offense,” said Jones, explaining Sunday’s scoring explosion. “We supported the ball and generated numerous chances. Most importantly, we scored on a couple of restarts. We’ve struggled offensively on restarts all season and converting in those situations can really help when you are struggling to score during the run of play.”

Converting on restarts the day before would have helped the Jeffs avoid a nerve-wracking penalty kick shootout against archrival Williams, whom they had defeated 1-0 on a late Harmeling goal in regular season play just three weeks earlier.

The Williams rematch looked like deja vu all over again when Harmeling gave Amherst a 1-0 lead after 69 minutes of defensive deadlock. Midfielder Sarah Coleman ’06 chipped a tricky pass over the heads of Harmeling and her defender. Harmeling beat her opponent to the ball and turned inside, causing the final Eph defender to trip and opening up a hole in the bottom right corner of the goal which she filled with a left-footed blast.

Up 1-0 late in the game and backed up by a seemingly infallible goalie riding a streak of five consecutive shutouts, Amherst appeared to have the win in the bag. Williams, however, had other thoughts.

A lucky bounce on a loose ball found the foot of Williams’ Hannah Stauffer, who was directly in front of the Amherst goal with only Crowell to beat. Stauffer lifted the ball in a high arc over Crowell and into the net, breaking the Amherst netminder’s lengthy scoreless streak and tying the semifinal with just nine minutes left in regulation.

“After they scored under nine minutes, we were on our heels a bit,” Jones admitted. “We hadn’t been scored upon in quite awhile and I could tell we were disappointed we broke down with so little time left. We regrouped and applied a lot of pressure the last 15 minutes of overtime.”

Neither team scored in two 10-minute overtime periods, forcing the type of best-of-five penalty kick round quite familiar to Amherst.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, the Jeffs were stretched to penalty kicks by seventh-seeded Tufts before an overpowering performance by Crowell gave Amherst a 4-2 victory in penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.

“Last week’s shootout against Tufts helped us tremendously in terms of poise and confidence,” said Harmeling, who missed her shot leading off the shootout against Tufts. “During this past week of practice, we took countless amounts of PKs knowing that it might come down to a shootout against Williams. With Piper in goal, it was just a matter of us putting the ball in the net, and we did.”

On the first kick of the shootout, Crowell broke in the right direction to deny Sarah Ginsburg, giving Amherst an opening edge.

Harmeling led off the Williams shootout for Amherst. This time, however, her approach and the results were drastically different. “I spent the week creating a routine and picking a spot to hit every time,” Harmeling said. “The coaches put a lot of faith in me, and with their support I was much more confident. I found my ‘happy place’ and knew that I had to score.”

Harmeling nailed her shot, and after Williams’ second shot sailed wide, Sarah Coleman put Amherst up 2-0. Williams closed the gap to 2-1 in the third round on an Amherst miss and Williams goal.

Up 2-1, Crowell made the biggest save of the match, blocking Terri Van Horn’s kick to give Amherst two chances to seal the victory.

“Piper anticipated well against their fourth shooter. You can tell she relishes that pressure-filled environment,” Jones said.

Given a chance to end the shootout in the fourth round, tri-captain Rossman did not disappoint. Rossman sent a rocket into the lower right-hand corner of the net, just inside the post, giving Amherst a win in penalty kicks (3-1) after a 1-1 tie.

Having won the NESCAC Tournament in two thrillers and a blowout, the Jeffs now look to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. Amherst faces Massachusetts Small College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) champion Bridgewater State College this afternoon with a home-field advantage earned by their second place finish in the region.

The team is confident in their ability to come up big against Bridgewater. Their record shows that, be it by shutout or blowout, the Jeffs seem always to find a way to victory.

“We have to take the enthusiasm from the weekend and carry that over to Wednesday’s game,” said Harmeling. “It was essential that we opened the offensive floodgates against Bates, and we feel unstoppable right now.”