On Saturday, the Tufts women’s soccer team traveled to Williams for a 2022 NESCAC tournament quarterfinal matchup. They came away with a 2–0 victory over the Williams Ephs, who were the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Goals were scored by first-year forward Elsi Aires in the 75th minute and senior midfielder Maddie Pero in the 84th minute. The upset victory avenged Tufts’ 1–0 loss at Williams earlier in the season and boosted the Jumbos’ chances of earning an NCAA Division III tournament bid. It also represents a turning of the tides between the two women’s soccer programs, as the Jumbos had gone 15 years — between 2006 and 2021 — without beating the Ephs, but have now won two of the last three matchups.
The Jumbos will travel to Amherst on Saturday, Nov. 5, for a NESCAC tournament semifinal matchup against the hosts, who are the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC. The Jumbos won 2–0 against the Mammoths earlier in the season. Goals in that game were scored by junior forward Erin Duncan and sophomore defender Caroline O’Neill.
The winner between the Jumbos and Mammoths will face the winner between No. 6 seed Wesleyan and No. 5 seed Trinity in the NESCAC championship game. During the regular season, the Jumbos won 2–0 away at Wesleyan and lost 0–1 at home against Trinity.
Although the tournament seeding suggests that Tufts entered their quarterfinal matchup with Williams as significant underdogs, the Jumbos’ upset victory should come as no surprise to those who have watched them play this season. With monumental 2–0 victories on the road against Wesleyan, ranked No. 10 in Div. III at the time, and Amherst, ranked No. 4 at the time, Tufts showed early in the season that they are a team for the big occasion and can compete with any team in the NESCAC. Later in the season, they came up with another big 2–0 victory on the road over No. 17 MIT.
The foundation that the Jumbos had built in the NESCAC standings crumbled as the season progressed, as they won only one of their final seven NESCAC games. Tufts’ lowest point of the season occurred when they lost 1–2 at Bates, which gave the Bobcats their only NESCAC win of the season and their first victory over the Jumbos since 2013.
“I think we could have been a little bit more consistent. I think that we really showed up for a lot of big games because we were excited,” Pero said. “We knew we had to start really hot because we had a really front-loaded schedule, like that big stretch of away games that were really hard. We knew we had to come in hot, but then we didn’t necessarily follow through with the same energy on the back end of the season and that’s definitely what hurt us.”
The Jumbos tore up their non-conference opponents this season, winning all five of their games against them and out-scoring them 25–2 in total. Against New England College, first-year forward Camille Lu scored four goals, which broke the program record for most goals scored in a game by an individual player.
Lu is not just part of a strong first-year class, but also part of a group of players that burst onto the scene in 2022 to make a significant positive impact on the Jumbos’ season for the first time in their collegiate careers. In her first season as a starter, junior midfielder Thalia Greenberg leads the team in scoring with seven goals. These include the opening goals against Connecticut College, Wesleyan and UMass Boston.
After missing the entire 2021 season due to injury, sophomore defender Caroline O’Neill was a force on both sides of the field. In addition to playing stellar defense all season long, O’Neill created lots of scoring chances for the Jumbos on free kicks and corner kicks. Her six assists on the season leads the team in that category.
First-year center-back Lena Sugrue provided a reliable presence in defense all season long and also got on the end of O’Neill’s corner kicks for the opening goals against Colby and Bridgewater State.
On the more experienced end, Pero has scored five goals this season and has become a pivotal asset offensively for the Jumbos down the stretch. Late in the season against Middlebury and in the NESCAC quarterfinal against Williams, Pero made runs with the ball from midfield deep into the opponent’s territory where she found the back of the net with powerfully-struck shots.
Another pivotal offensive asset to watch this postseason is Aires. The first-year forward has started three of the last four games for the Jumbos as a part of the ongoing effort to replace the production of junior forward Nicola Sommers, who has been sidelined with a concussion since Oct. 2. The importance of Aires to the team has become evident, as she scored goals in victorious games against UMass Boston and Williams during those starts and played a season-high 75 minutes against Williams.
“[Being thrust into a starting role] is definitely a little difficult to deal with since I am a freshman, but my teammates are all so supportive and we’re like a family,” Aires said. “[Martha Whiting] is a great coach and she’s always said [that] it doesn’t matter what grade, we’re all the same. And so it [has been] really great.”
Despite the large discrepancy between how long Pero and Aires have been with the team, both have had a special experience with this 2022 team on and off the field.
“We’re playing the nicest soccer that I’ve played in my time here,” Pero said. “We’re doing a much better job connecting passes and playing calm and being really confident in our technical abilities so that we keep the ball and have possession the majority of the game. And that lets us dictate the pace of how we play ― so making sure that we build up to our attack and then can go really quickly, at like the drop of a dime, when we see that there’s an opportunity to take.”
“I would say my favorite thing about my first season is just the team itself and how they have welcomed us freshmen. They’ve just been so open to us, and we’ve truly felt like we’re a part of the team since the beginning of our ‘pre-preseason,’” Aires said, referring to a week of captain-led practices, which takes place before the coach-led preseason, when players get to meet and bond with their teammates.
Tufts plays Amherst away in a NESCAC tournament semifinal matchup on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 11 a.m.