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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Women's Soccer | Season capped off by second-ever Final Four appearance

When the women's soccer team began the fall season, it had no idea what to expect. With the loss of six starters to graduation, including leading scorer Jen Baldwin and four-year starting goalie Meg McCourt, coach Martha Whiting had added five freshmen and two transfers to her roster and looked to her senior tri-captains to lead the Jumbos in 2005.

After a shaky opening day loss to Colby, the team proceeded to put together one of the most impressive seasons in school history.

Various injuries during the Colby game forced starters Jen Fratto, Lauren Fedore and Lydia Claudio to the sidelines for the next several weeks, forcing Whiting's new players to take active team roles almost immediately.

The turning point of the season came just one game later in a midweek home matchup with the Wheaton Lyons, then No. 13 nationally and No. 1 in New England. The Lyons hadn't lost a regional game in five years, but with just three subs available and five new players stepping into crucial roles in the lineup, the Jumbos came away with a 3-2 victory.

"After coming out and losing to Colby, we were extremely disappointed," sophomore Martha Furtek said. "That next week we had three do-or-die games and it was discouraging that we didn't have three of our starters. A lot of the new players were nervous and a little unsure of their roles, but everyone stepped up and made a huge impact on the field. If we hadn't won those next three games, the momentum of the season would have completely changed and we never would have made it as far as we did."

The Wheaton victory sparked a record ten-game winning streak and 11-game unbeaten streak, and started what would be a perfect 7-0 season at home on Kraft Field. The team rose in the national rankings throughout the season, peaking at No. 6 in mid-October and staying in the top 13 for the majority of the season.

A midweek slipup against Wesleyan, which ended the unbeaten streak on Oct. 26, was quickly erased when the team traveled to Conn. College for its final regular season contest the following Saturday. Tufts overcame the Camels 1-0, and with a Williams loss, the Jumbos clinched the regular season NESCAC title and were set to host the postseason tournament.

After avenging the early loss to Colby with a 2-1 win over the Mules in the semifinals, the Jumbos fell to Bates in a double overtime thriller, 2-1. But Tufts was rewarded for its season-long dominance in New England by the NCAA just a day later with an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and the right to host the New England Regional.

"Hosting NESCAC's really rewarded all our hard work during the regular season," sophomore defender Joelle Emery said. "After our loss to Bates, I think we forgot about all our accomplishments, and how talented a team we were. When we were given a bid and allowed to host, it put new confidence into our play, and really propelled us throughout the postseason."

The Jumbos crushed Johnson and Wales, 3-0, in the Regional quarterfinals and exacted some revenge on Bates in the semifinals with a 1-0 win on a near-perfect goal by junior Kim Harrington.

"With injuries early on in the season, we needed people to step up and Kim did," senior tri-captain Sarah Callaghan said. "You could see her confidence growing and she got better every game, and she ended up scoring two huge goals for us in the playoffs."

The wins advanced the Jumbos to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen to face off once again with Wheaton for the New England Regional title at Oneonta State. After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, the squad put together one of the most dominant halves of soccer in Tufts history, scoring five times on the Lyons to win the Regional crown.

"That was definitely the best comeback I've ever been a part of," Callaghan said. "To come back and score three goals would have been awesome; to score five was indescribable."

Tufts carried that momentum through to the Sectional Championship the following day, where the team faced the host Oneonta State Red Dragons. A late Red Dragon goal and two scoreless overtime sessions set up the Jumbos' most exciting game of the season: a penalty kick shootout with a spot in the Final Four at stake.

With Tufts up 4-3 and Oneonta down to its last shooter, Jumbo junior goalie Annie Ross came up with the biggest save of her life, a diving stop just inside the left post to give the Jumbos the victory and a ticket to Greensboro, NC to face The College of New Jersey in the semifinals.

"Shootouts are about the most stressful thing that can happen in a game, and so either way at the end it is going to be emotional," Callaghan said. "In an instant, we realized we won and were going to the Final Four, and it was an amazing feeling."

While the Jumbos' magical season came to an end with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of TCNJ, the squad fought hard for all 90 minutes, especially late in the game when their fate had already been decided.

"We don't quit because we play for each other," Emery said. "We've come from behind in games simply because people refused to stop working. Even though it didn't leave us with a win against TCNJ, I think it just represents the pride we have for our team and how much we love each other."

Despite Whiting's heavy emphasis on the concept of team, several stars emerged for the Jumbos this season. At the forefront offensively was senior tri-captain Ariel Samuelson, who led the Jumbos and the NESCAC in scoring with 14 goals and four assists for a total of 32 points. Samuelson was the key to the team's offense all season and was the first Tufts women's soccer player to be named NESCAC Player of the Year.

Joining Samuelson on the All-NESCAC First Team was sophomore Martha Furtek, who was overall the most crucial part of the team's success. Furtek played nearly every minute of every game, and was the oil that made the Jumbo machine run smoothly.

Callaghan and Claudio also had great seasons, with Callaghan leading the NESCAC in assists despite missing a month of the season with a knee injury and Claudio (along with Emery) earning a spot on the All-NESCAC Second Team.

The most impressive part of the 2005 squad, however, was its defense. The back four of Fratto and sophomores Annie Benedict, Emery and Wagner, along with Ross, recorded nine shutouts this season against high-powered offenses like Bates, Bowdoin and Middlebury.

Ross led the conference with 0.77 goals against average and kept the Jumbos in many games with her often-acrobatic saves. Perhaps the most promising prospect for 2006 is that all five components of the team's defense will be returning to the field.

"Our defense worked together so well this season," Furtek said. "They came up big when we needed them, shutting down All-Americans and leading scorers to keep us in close games."

The squad will say goodbye to its five seniors, as Callaghan, Samuelson, fellow tri-captain Lindsay Garmirian, Claudio and defender Cate Meeker will graduate in May.

"It's really hard to sum up how amazing they were and how much they contributed to our team on and off the field," freshman Maya Shoham said. "They were such great role models and they always motivated us to play our hardest. We're going to miss them immeasurably."