There is something qualitatively different about single-elimination soccer tournaments from a run-of-the-mill, regular game. The NESCAC Championship tournament is no exception. In league play, an unlucky day can be brushed aside — but in the tournament, a bad day can easily turn into a frustrating eight-month hiatus until the season begins again.
The Amherst women’s team came into their quarterfinal match on a five-game win streak in which they conceded no goals, despite the loss of star goalie Antonia Tammaro ’21 to a head injury.
One could sense that the side had matured, overcoming the challenge posed by losing All-American striker Rubii Tamen ’19, as now they scored goals from a variety of different sources.
Their weekend matchup against Hamilton, however, was by no means easy. The Continentals came prepared with a game plan to match the Amherst style. Because Amherst is comfortable in possession and builds up attacks slowly from the back, Hamilton attempted to exploit this penchant, pestering the Mammoth back line, hoping to pounce on an Amherst error.
Amherst had to work hard to break down the Hamilton press, dropping back their attacking midfielders to receive the ball, as Jordan Bailey ’20 and her understudy Julia Ralph ’21 were too tightly marked to serve as the link between defense and attack.
Once the Mammoths broke through the line of pressure, they were given space out wide. Hamilton stayed narrow, and to their credit, defended adroitly.
Amherst piled on the pressure in the first half. Ruby Hastie ’22, playing a more central role than usual, had an excellent chance in the 32nd minute after she created an inch of space with an excellent cut inside. But her right-footed shot steamed low and hard to the nearside corner, and the Hamilton goalie made an excellent save. In total, Amherst took 12 shots in the first half, although none went in the net.
Perhaps the telling sign that the Continentals might have been crumbling was the fouls they committed. Alexa Juarez ’22 earned a free kick just outside the Continetals’ box after a distasteful Hamilton challenge that let her set up to hit the dead ball.
Juarez’s shot, struck beautifully with pace and knuckling precision towards the top left corner, whizzed just inches above the bar.
The first half ended scoreless, and the Mammoths went into the break searching to break the game open.
As the second half kicked off, one could feel the pressure mounting on the Mammoths, who, despite dominating the match, had yet to score. Early in the second half, Isabelle Stern ’23 cleverly brought the ball into the box, leaving her defender scratching her head, and rifled a shot on net.
The ricochet fell to Juarez, who hit the keeper, then Sloan Askins ’20, who spent much of the second half marauding forward from center back, got that rebound and skied the ball over the net. It was one of those moments where doubt crept closer in to the Mammoths’ minds, especially since Hamilton counterattacked well several times in the second half. Amherst maintained both composure and the pressure, even as regular time expired and the match headed into overtime.
From there, it was all preparation begetting opportunity, as Amherst finally cashed in on their dominance as Hannah Gustafson ’21 scored after a rebound came to her, and she finally squeezed one by the Hamilton goalkeeper Rachel Pike.
New challenges await, as Amherst moves on to face the top-seeded Tufts team next Saturday in Medford.
With a strong team identity, and by all evidence, just enough luck on the Mammoths’ side, it certainly will make for an interesting matchup.