Williams women's soccer team arrives back in Williamstown with championship hardware in tow
For Pittsfield's Ilana Albert, winning back-to-back championships is just part of the goal.
"I didn't think it was going to happen," Albert said with a laugh, when asked if she thought she'd have two NCAA championships on her resume in her first two years at Williams.
"As the season went on, the goal got more and more real," she said, "especially with the team that we've had."
The Ephs wrapped up their third championship in four years on Saturday night, beating NESCAC rival Middlebury to claim the trophy. The game was tied 1-1 after 110 minutes of soccer. Williams beat Middlebury 3-2 in penalty kicks to get credit for the victory.
It was Williams's second consecutive championship, and the Ephs became the first school to do that since Messiah went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.
Senior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill made two saves in the penalty kick round, including one on Clare Robinson that clinched the title for Williams.
"Going into this season, we felt like we deserved a chance to be back here, but not necessarily proved ourselves to be deserving of that," Albert said. "Seeing our team grow from thinking we deserved a spot to showing that we had to prove it, and actually going to deserve that spot in real time, that was probably the biggest transition."
Albert, who assisted on Sarah Scire's game-winning goal in the 2-0 semifinal win over Christopher Newport and assisted on Aspen Pierson's goal in the championship game, was one of four Ephs named to the All-Tournament team. Scire and defender Sarah Kelly were the co-most valuable players, while Pierson was also named to the All-Tournament team.
While the senior class will leave Williams with three national championships in four years, the current sophomore class still has the opportunity to go four-for-four.
"I hope so," sophomore Georgia Lord, of Manchester, Vt., said with a laugh. "After this season, I think anything is possible."
The Burr & Burton graduate said winning consecutive national championships was not something she could ever have pictured.
"Not at all," she said, after unloading her gear at Cole Field House. "Incoming freshmen don't really know what it takes to make it to the Final Four. I remember last year, after we did it, our class said we should set a goal for ourselves that we should try to make it to the Final Four every year.
"I think we have exceeded our expectations for ourselves, winning two in a row."
Williams coach Michelyne Pinard said she hasn't had a lot of time to process this national championship yet. The coach, who just wrapped up her 17th season at the helm, smiled when a reporter asked her if she's been able to wrap her arms around another championship.
"It's been such a whirlwind, to be honest, we were just in the moment. Now, we're really tired," Pinard said. "It's been a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. What I thought was most impressive was how tight and together they have stayed through both, and how much fun they had when things were good, and also how resilient they were when things were tough."
Resilient is a good word, when one considers that it was an own goal that sent the national championship game into overtime, and eventually into penalty kicks.
"I knew it was the last [kick], and I had followed the score this time, unlike other times. Often I don't know what the score is," Barnhill said, when asked to recall Robinson's final penalty kick. "I don't know if it's better. It's hard to pay attention when you're so focused on just making a save.
"I knew that if we saved it, we would win, which was an exciting opportunity."
Williams' Rain Condie had scored her penalty kick to put Williams up 3-2. Robinson was Middlebury's last chance, because Barnhill had made a stop on a PK by Riley Kinum that would have tied the score at 2-2.
"I've been able to read PKs pretty well in my experience, which has been interesting and fun. Once you start to read them and where they're going to go," Barnhill said, "you can start to cheat a little bit."
Robinson shot to the left post, but Barnhill read the shooter, got her hands on the ball, which caromed off the post and out of danger.
"As soon as I touched the ball, I knew it wasn't going in," Barnhill said. "You can see me turn around, because in case it starts to roll back. If it rolls back and off of the post, it would have been a goal. Once I knew it was definitely not going in, I was excited.
"I knew we had won, but it still felt incredibly surreal."
Barnhill is part of an eight-member senior class that went to four Final Fours, played in four national championship games and won three national titles.
"When we came in our freshman year, the Williams program did not have any national championships. That was something that Williams had been knocking on the door for a while. It was something that, as a class, we all wanted so badly, and our freshman year, we worked so hard to get," Barnhill said. "That first championship was unlike anything else that we had experienced. Once you have one, you don't want to stop.
"Three out of four is pretty good."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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