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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Women's soccer finds equalizer against Middlebury, clinches NESCAC playoffs

The Jumbos’ final regular season results earn them a postseason date with powerhouse Amherst.

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Caroline Kelly is pictured against Williams on Oct. 15.

For any Tufts team, playing away games at Middlebury is a challenge. In addition to the general quality of its teams, the three or four-hour bus ride to the western side of Vermont is quite a journey. On Saturday, when the women’s soccer team traveled north to take on Middlebury, they not only dealt with these obstacles but also the wet, rainy conditions.

Yet, despite all of this, the Jumbos walked into Dragone Field on a mission to clinch a spot in the NESCAC playoffs. With such a result, the Jumbos simultaneously brought great disappointment to the Panthers by eliminating them from playoff contention on their senior day. The 1–1 final score did not come without some excitement. Sophomore midfielder Caroline Kelly discussed what allowed the Jumbos to achieve this feat.

“We knew … that it was going to be a wet game, but we knew we just had to put all our effort in because we knew that Middlebury was going to be fighting, too,” Kelly said. “We just played like we usually play despite the conditions because that’s how we play best, and we just went out there and gave it our all.”

The Jumbos maintained control of play for the vast majority of the match and were far more dangerous in front of the goal. Two spectacular opportunities came in the 18th and 26th minutes. First, senior forward Nicola Sommers struck one off the post, then Kelly’s shot was stumped by the Panthers’ senior goalkeeper Carolyn Kelley.

The rainy conditions would, however, eventually cause trouble for the Jumbos in the 34th minute when the Jumbos’ defense had some rough touches and slips, and then the Panthers’ first-year midfielder Gigi Day suddenly had an opportunity to slot one home to the bottom right, which she buried.

Still, even with the Panthers’ goal, the Jumbos had the best opportunity of the half in the final three minutes. Tufts’ first-year forward Waverly Sumner found herself in an unbelievable position to level the score going into the break, but a Panthers defender made a hero clearance off the line to prevent the goal.

In the second half, the Jumbos’ dominance and pressure continued, and it seemed like a goal was inevitable. In the 59th minute of the contest, the squad’s looming threats finally materialized with one of the prettiest goals you will see in Division III women’s soccer. After Kelly gained possession of the ball, she played a lovely, lofted ball up and out to the right where senior forward Erin Duncan received it, carried it farther down the flank and played a brilliantly driven ball into the box. Once the ball arrived near the six-yard line, it was met by sophomore forward Elsi Aries, who timed her run perfectly and put it away to even the score at one. Kelly described her tendency to look to play balls similar to the one she sent to Duncan.

“I like to be creative, and the forwards know that, and that’s how we work best together,” Kelly commented. “We just practice that, and we work well together when we can be creative around the defensive line.”

Throughout the rest of the match, it seemed like the Jumbos had chance after chance to take the lead, including a well-hit rocket by senior midfielder Thalia Greenberg that hit the post and bounced out.

“At that point, it was obviously a really close game, so we just brought the energy and we kept the ball really well between us,” Kelly observed. “Our passing was on point, so I think that just allowed us to keep attacking at their defense, and they were getting tired, but we seemed to be getting more energy — and I think that’s what helped us to keep getting those chances.”

Despite the numerous chances they had, the Jumbos were unable to find the net again to claim the victory. That being said, the Jumbos held utter control of play and dominance of the statistics sheet, recording 18 shots to the Panthers’ six, eight shots on goal to the Panthers’ three, as well as seven corners to the Panthers’ two. In the end, the scoreline was enough to get the job done for the team. In a league as tough as the NESCAC, that has as much national triumph as it does, the accomplishment of clinching the playoffs should not be overlooked: It is a conference where any team can win on a given day, so guaranteeing your squad’s ability to fight for hardware goes a long way.

Following Saturday’s performance, the squad went on the road again on Tuesday to take on Bowdoin with seeding implications on the line. Depending on the result and other scores around the league, the Jumbos could finish as high as third place on the regular season table. Unfortunately, a very valiant effort that featured two goals from Sumner was not enough to prevent the team from recording its first away loss of the year as the Polar Bears won 3–2. As a result of Tuesday’s scores, the Jumbos are the No. 8 seed in the NESCAC tournament and will travel to the No. 1 seed, Amherst College — No. 6 in the nation — on Oct. 30 with kickoff at 12:30 p.m. Despite their difficult playoff draw, the Jumbos remain optimistic about the postseason.

“It’s a new season for us, we have new opportunities,” Kelly said. “We have a clean sheet … and we can just give it our all and there’s no looking back. We don’t have to think about the past, and we are looking towards the future and wanting to win so we can keep our season going.”