WILLIAMSTOWN — Twelve months ago, the Williams College women's soccer team lost in the NESCAC championship on Cole Field in penalty kicks. Not this year and not that way.
First year Natalie Turner-Wyatt broke a scoreless tie with her first varsity goal in the 54th minute and goalkeeper Tressa Palcheck registered her 10th shutout of the seasons as the Ephs hoisted the championship trophy after a 2-0 win over Bowdoin Sunday afternoon.
Williams' leading scorer Kriste Kirshe gave the Ephs a cushion when she scored in the 88th minute.
"Playing on Cole is such a gift, and I think the longer we can play on Cole, the happier we are," Williams co-captain Mai Mitsuyama said after the game. "We love playing on this field. We love playing in front of our crowd. The longer we can play on Cole, the longer our season will go."
The last sentence in the statement was undoubtedly the most factual. The Ephs earned the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III soccer tournament with the win over Bowdoin. The brackets will be released today, and coach Michelyne Pinard's team is looking forward to having at least one more weekend on the home pitch.
For the Ephs, it was their seventh NESCAC title since the conference began its postseason tournament in 2000, but only their first since 2012. In that game, Williams beat Bowdoin on penalty kicks. That's a fact that Turner-Wyatt was very familiar with.
"It was really cool because everyone on our team, even the seniors won on PKs. This is the first time anyone on our team outright won the championship," said the forward from Brooklyn.
Turner-Wyatt's goal might not have come about were it not for a stellar opening five minutes by the Williams goalkeeper. Had Palcheck not come up big right off the bat, the Polar Bears might have celebrated all the way back to Maine.
Bowdoin had the wind at its back in the first half. Five minutes into the game, Bowdoin midfielder Taylor Haist sent a long ball into the box where Eliza Nitzan got her head on the ball. Palcheck was equal to the shot and made the save on a ball ticketed for under the crossbar.
"Bowdoin is an unbelievable team and they do a good job of taking the options we were looking for away, and it took us a little time to find those," said Pinard. "Once Tressa made that save, we got going. I think we were able to play the way we want, which is quickly and we want to get behind their backs."
The game was scoreless at halftime. Williams had outshot Bowdoin 9-2, but Polar Bears goalkeeper Bridget McCarthy did not make a save.
Williams finally broke the tie at 53:26. Turner-Wright took a pass from Evan Gancedo outside on the left wing. Turner-Wright came in a bit and ripped a shot from some 35 yards that found the back of the net inside the far post. It was the second shot of the half.
"Oh yeah, I don't know what to say," Turner-Wright said after the awards presentation, but then recalled how the goal happened.
"I got the ball on the left and I knew I had one player" near her, she said. "I also knew that if I take a touch left, I would have a look at the goal.
"It's weird. When you're in the moment, you're not thinking about anything."
The Ephs, who ended up outshooting the Polar Bears 19-4, kept storming the Bowdoin goal, but having very few scoring chances. Finally, at 87:16, Williams first-year midfielder Madison Feeney played a ball past the Bowdoin defense. Kirshe, who came into the weekend as the Ephs' leading scorer, ran on the ball and beat McCarthy, setting off the Williams celebration.
Williams lost its first game of the year back on Oct. 27. Since then, the Ephs have won three straight tourney games by a combined 6-2 score. Pinard said that loss helped Williams reset things.
"That Middlebury loss was devastating in the moment. But in the long run, we knew we needed a little shakeup to galvanize us and make us a little bit stronger," said the Williams coach. "We had been rolling through the season and when we took that loss, it really makes it real. These guys responded as well as we could have."