Williams College women's soccer enjoys break before trip to NCAA tournament Final Four

WILLIAMSTOWN — The Williams College women's soccer team players will pack their bags next week to play in the NCAA Division III Final Four. It is the third time in the last four years that the Ephs have gone, and they are just two years removed from winning their first national championship.

That championship was then. This is now.

"This is a very different team. This is the best team I've ever played on," Williams goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill said after Sunday's game. "I think we don't talk about that national championship that much, if ever, because we think of this as a new season.

"No matter what we did in the past, it's not affecting us because it's a clean slate — we're very different."

Williams coach Michelyne Pinard sent her players home for Thanksgiving with the knowledge that they'll return rested and ready to prepare for a Final Four date with Hardin-Simmons of Abilene, Texas.

The Ephs will practice after the holiday, wrap up their work on Tuesday, and then jet to Greensboro, N.C. on Wednesday.

Williams and Hardin-Simmons will play at 1:30 p.m., in the second game of a Friday doubleheader. The University of Chicago and The College of New Jersey will play in the first game at 11 a.m.

The winners will play Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

"I think what's going to help this group is that they believe in themselves," Pinard said. "They believe in what they're capable of. They believe in each other. The sky is the limit. I can't wait to see them play."

Much as it did in the Round of 16, Williams will face a Final Four opponent it has never seen before.

Hardin-Simmons (23-0-0) last won an NCAA Division III championship in 2010, beating Messiah 2-1.

The Cowgirls beat Ohio Northern 1-0 last Sunday at William Smith College to earn a spot in the Final Four. Sarah Krisa scored the goal for Hardin-Simmons.

Kenne Kessler is the Cowgirls' leading scorer. She had 37 goals in 23 games. Williams, on the other hand, has 51 goals as a team in 22 games. Caitlin Christiansen started all 23 games in net for Hardin-Simmons, and has a 0.33 goals-against average with seven shutouts.

Hardin-Simmons is coached by Marcus Wood, who has been at the helm in Texas since 2000. He has never had a losing record, and the Cowgirls were 24-0-1 in that national championship season.

In the other game, there is a familiar foe for Williams in The College of New Jersey.

If TCNJ gets past Chicago in the opener and if Williams wins, they would meet for the third time in an NCAA Tournament game.

TCNJ beat Williams 1-0 back in 2009, while Williams returned the favor in a 1-0 win in 2014.

Williams' Pinard is in her 16th season as head coach, which nearly equals the amount of time Wood has been at Hardin-Simmons. They are veritable rookies compared to the coaches on the other side.

TCNJ's Joe Russo is in his 28th season in Ewing Township, N.J., outside of Trenton, and is the only coach the program has ever had.

Chicago's Amy Reifert, meanwhile, is also in her 28th season at the helm in Chicago. The Maroons got to the Final Four last year.

Reifert, by the way, is a 1986 graduate of Amherst College where she was a political science major and a three-sport athlete.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.


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