Tuesday September 4, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Trips to the NCAA Division III tournament are, if not expected, certainly anticipated for the Williams College soccer teams.

Mike Russo's Williams men missed the NCAA tournament in 2011, only the third time that's happened in the 19 years NESCAC schools have been permitted to play in the postseason. That's something Russo and the Ephs, 9-4-3 last year, would like to change.

Michelyne Pinard's Williams women, meanwhile, were one win away from playing in the Division III Final Four. It was a long road for Williams (13-5-3) last year, as the Ephs won three straight road tournament games before losing to William Smith in the Elite Eight.

The Williams men open on Wednesday at Westfield State. The women also start Wednesday with a road trip at SUNY-Oneonta.

Williams men

Former Mount Greylock goalkeeper Than Finan will be battling Peter Morrell for the starting goalkeeping position with the Ephs. Finan, a senior, played in 12 games and started 10. He had a 0.63 goals-against average and seven shutouts.

"This group can be very good. We're very young. We have almost 20 underclassmen between the freshmen and sophomores," said Finan. "We have a lot of kids stepping up. We have some freshmen playing in the back already. Hopefully, if we stay healthy and have kids step up, we can go a long way."

After beating Concordia College of Montreal 2-1 in an exhibition on Sunday, Russo pronounced his team as ready for Wednesday as it can be.

"I'm a little bit nervous because Westfield has been out a long time, they're a good team and it's on turf," said Russo. "After [Sunday] I'm confident we'll come to play."

Williams graduated six from last year's team, including All-America back Phil Vestergaard. Co-captain Matt Ratajczak, who plays left-center back, will anchor the defense. The other back liners are either sophomores or juniors.

Senior co-captain Peter Christman will help anchor the midfield while junior User Kushaina is the leading returning scorer from last year and he will start at striker.

Williams women

"I couldn't be more pleased with where we are," Pinard said after her team scrimmaged with NESCAC rival Middlebury on Sunday. "We've spent a lot of time working on our overall shape and I think this group has picked it up very well.

"The fact that we are capable of staying organized defensively and we're keeping the ball offensively, I couldn't be more pleased."

To say she is pleased with her goalkeeping is an understatement.

"I think they're the best goalkeeping in the country," Pinard said of veterans Hannah Van Wetter, Laura Wann and Carolina Echenique. "Any one of them could step in and play. They're all, in my opinion, three of the best keepers in the country."

Wann is a senior who played in 17 games and started 13 last year. She had a 0.76 goals-against average, with an .847 save percentage and five shutouts. Van Wetter made her mark as a freshman, as he played in 10 games and started eight. She gave up four goals, had a .895 save percentage, a 0.54 goals-against average and three shutouts.

The Ephs do have three of their top four scorers returning this year, but the combined goal total of Caitlyn Clark (2), Lilly Wellenbach (5) and Hayley Cook (2) didn't equal the 11 goals of the graduated Brett Eisenhart - the all-time leading scorer in Williams history.

The aforementioned trio will be counted on to score some goals, along with seniors Sam Vilaboa and Bridget Gallagher, who played a combined 10 games between them.

Wellenbach, who was outstanding as a freshman, will help anchor the back line with senior co-captain Chelsea Davis.