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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Strong women’s soccer season stubbed by William Smith in NCAA second round

Stephanie DiLeo dribbles through Williams players during a Sept. 2021 game.

Following a NESCAC tournament run that came to a close with a double overtime 1–0 loss to No. 8 Amherst in the semifinals, the women’s soccer team was excited to see just how well it could perform in the NCAA tournament. In Saturday’s first-round matchup, the No. 22 Jumbos took down Denison 1–0 in about as comfortable fashion as that score allows, but the squad fell to No. 6 William Smith 1–0 on Sunday despite a valiant effort. Since William Smith was the highest seed in the bracket region, the team hosted in Geneva, N.Y. at Cozzens Field. With the addition of this weekend’s performances, the Jumbos finished the year with an overall record of 11–6–2, a conference record of 4–4–2, a trip to the NESCAC semifinals and a run to the NCAA second round. Yet, the stories of success in the tournament and the season are not fully understood by those numbers.

In the game against Denison, the Jumbos had control of play and possession from the beginning. The Jumbos then took the lead in the 15th minute when impressive build-up play in the right corner culminated in a tap-in by junior forward Erin Duncan from a ball in from senior midfielder Maddie Pero. Despite the dominance of the Jumbos, after the goal, the game slowed down, and the energy level dropped. Pero and the rest of the team took notice of this.

“We felt very comfortable, just because they didn’t have too much of a dangerous attacking presence, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing,” Pero said.

However, even with this drop in energy level, the Jumbos escaped Saturday with an unblemished win. Everyone knew, though, that if they were going to play with a team much stronger than Denison in William Smith, they would have to perform much better. Fortunately for the team, throughout the season, it has shown up in the most important games with great intensity and level of play, and this game was no different. Pero elaborated on how the Jumbos stepped up in important games.

“How much this team wants to play for each other is the sole reason that we are able to perform as well as we do in these big games in that everyone wants to work so hard for the girl next to them,” Pero said. “We had to show up for each other if we wanted the season to continue and we definitely did that,” she added.

From the very beginning of the game, the intensity was evident. As a result, the team controlled possession in the opening minutes and had the most dangerous chances. Although the momentum, particularly in terms of control of possession, would shift to William Smith, in general, the first half was very back-and-forth.

In the second half, the Jumbos seemed to take control again, having four shots and three corner kicks in the half’s first ten minutes. Nonetheless, even with quality chances, the Jumbos were unable to find the back of the net, which became a theme for the game. As Pero observed, it was not an issue with the chances they were getting, but instead with their shots.

“[We] had lots of attacking opportunities, but not that many dangerous shots. … People weren’t hitting shots as quickly as they needed to and put [William Smith] in a dangerous position to score,” Pero said.

Unfortunately, this problem became more desperate for the squad when William Smith countered, and forward Julia DiMenna slotted it home into the bottom right corner off of a perfectly placed through ball from forward Seneca Blakely-Armitage.

After the goal, the squad certainly did not quit. With this fight until the very last seconds of the match, the Jumbos registered even more chances, including perhaps the game’s best when first-year forward Elsi Aires seemingly had an open shot on net from inside the box. However, when her shot was blocked, it was apparent that she had waited just too long to pull the trigger. In the end, although the squad put up a fight, registering seven corner kicks to the Herons’ five, ten shots to the Herons’ nine and tying them with five shots on goal, it fell short.

With this NCAA tournament being the squad’s ninth appearance ever, it is undeniable that this was a successful season, especially coming after last year when it had an overall record of just 8–7.

“I think that it’s really mentally hard to have a year like we had last year and come back and do as well as we did,” Pero said. “It felt nice to have a team do well in the NESCAC tournament, and the NCAA tournament, and kind of get back onto the same roll we had my freshman year when we did really well,” Pero said.

With the impact that seniors like Pero have had on the program, particularly in instilling values such as taking it one game at a time and working hard for each other, it will be in a great place moving forward.

“The girls are really what make [the program] so special, and so they’re why I want to work so hard every day, and they’re why everyone else wants to work so hard every single day, in season and out of season. I’m just excited to see them play next year, and it will be so fun to be alumni — when they’re going to do so well — and get to root them on, and know that I was a part of building this,” Pero said.

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