WILLIAMSTOWN — For three years running, Williams College women's soccer players Kriste Kirshe and Audrey Thomas have been 1-2 in scoring in NESCAC. This year, they've done it a little bit differently, and that could cause some real problems for opponents at the NCAA Division III Final Four.
Thomas and Kirshe were starting forwards for head coach Michelyne Pinard until Thomas pulled a hamstring. She missed five of the last 16 games and instead of teaming up with Kirshe, Thomas has been a weapon off the bench.
So has that been a problem for teams Williams faces?
"Some might say that," said Thomas, taking over a pre-practice interview Tuesday. "I don't know. Kirshe, what do you think?"
"It's a very interesting question," said Kirshe. "I'd say that I definitely miss spending all my time playing with Audrey. It's definitely a lot of fun. I think over the last two years, we've really learned to understand each other as players.
"I also think it's probably frustrating for other teams to have to deal with a strong forward line for an entire 45 minutes or an entire 90 minutes."
Thomas, Kirshe and the rest of the Ephs boarded a jet Wednesday morning bound for the Swope Soccer Center in Kansas City, Mo., for the Final Four. After a training day Thursday, the Ephs will play Centre (Ky.) College in the second game of a doubleheader. The first game features Messiah and Washington-St. Louis.
The winners play Saturday.
Kirshe and Thomas have been fairly inseparable on the pitch since arriving at Williams. They moved into the starting lineups as sophomores in 2014 with Kirshe leading NESCAC with 18 goals and Thomas scoring 17. Their production was down a bit this year, with both scoring 12 goals. Kirshe led NESCAC in scoring for the second consecutive year as she was also tops with 9 assists.
"It's helped in a couple of ways," Williams coach Michelyne Pinard said when asked about splitting the two up and having Thomas come off the bench.
"When she was out and she had to watch that Middlebury game [first loss of the year], and watched a few games before that when I was trying to convince the team that we were capable of being more competitive and the players on the field were unsure of what I was saying," the coach said. "[Thomas] was able to say 'Yes, I agree,' because she was watching and wasn't in it.
"One, I think her perspective in that moment was invaluable. Two, our attack had to evolve and more people had to have ownership."
Thomas said that while she always enjoys starting, coming off the bench after the game has started gives her an idea of what she needs to do.
"The first 15 minutes are always where people are figuring things out and adjusting to the pace of the game," said Thomas. "It's nice coming in when the team gets settled."
For two-plus years, they were a female Butch and Sundance, equal offensive partners who created headaches for teams throughout NESCAC and the nation.
Now, with this system, Kirshe starts with freshman Kristina Alvarado, while Thomas makes an appearance off the bench — usually about 10 minutes into each half.
Splitting them up hasn't hurt the Ephs, and has given opponents — in this case Centre coach Jay Hoffman — some issues to deal with.
"[Thomas] commands a lot of attention, so it doesn't really matter when she's in there," said Pinard. "It has more to do with the fact that other people have really, they know they've had to step up and they have."