Williams women's soccer set for defense of national title


WILLIAMSTOWN >> The Williams College women's soccer team is the NCAA Division III defending champion.

It's a major accomplishment, to be sure. But for the returning veterans from that championship club, that was so last year.

"I think we agreed as a team to kind of sit on it and be happy about the success we had last year through, kind of early January," co-captain Audrey Thomas said. "Then started the new season.

"So I haven't been thinking about it at all, about last season, other than how to maintain the energy."

The Ephs were 21-1-2 last year en route to the first women's soccer title in school history. Williams hasn't lost a game since dropping a 2-1 decision at Middlebury back on Oct. 27. The Ephs have a nine-game unbeaten streak, which included a penalty-kick victory over William Smith in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight game. Williams beat Centre and Washington-St. Louis to claim the championship.

So as coach Michelyne Pinard welcomed her team back to campus, she was asked about last year and how much she believes it factors into what could happen in 2016.

"Every season is unique and you have to create every season as it comes," said Pinard, the national Division III coach of the year for 2015. "You can't re-create and we know that.

"We're just excited that we have a special group of young women that are excited to work hard. We're going to create something special, but we don't know what that is."

Goalkeeper Tressa Palcheck, who backstopped the Ephs to the national championship, posting 13 shutouts in 23 games, said that remembering what happened is important. Remembering that, now that Williams is a national champion, also means that a loss could make another team's season.

"We're going to be really visible out there," said the senior keeper. "I think people are going to be gunning for us, and I think we're going to really love that challenge."

The Ephs are a veteran crew from Palcheck in the back to Thomas and Kriste Kirshe up front. Thomas and Kirshe combined to score 24 goals — 12 each.

The good thing for Pinard is Williams returns players who scored 43 of the 50 goals they scored last year. The biggest loss might be in midfield, where Mai Mitsuyama graduated. Mitsuyama was the D3soccer.com midfielder of the year, an All-NESCAC first teamer and an All-American.

"It's really getting on the same page, so if you have a lot of returners, you still have first-years coming into the fold," said Pinard, who begins her 15th season. "We're going to depend on those returners to bring them into the mix and really be teachers."

Williams opens its season on Wednesday at Hamilton, as the Ephs jump right into NESCAC conference play. Eight of the 11 NESCAC teams played .500 or better soccer last year.

After the Hamilton game, Williams will play four consecutive home contests.

As to the season ahead, the Ephs already have an understanding that a national championship puts them on a very small list of teams.

"It's a good thing to use as motivation and as encouragement to say 'Yes, this is something that we've done and can do again,'" Palcheck said. "You also have to be aware of using it as something where you might feel entitled or we've been there, so we can expect to be there again."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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