Courtesy of Williams Sports Information
GREENSBORO, N.C. - It may have been the best call Williams senior Natasha Albaneze has made in her young life.
Early in the second half of Saturday's NCAA Div. III national championship game versus the University of Chicago, her teammate Natalie Turner-Wyatt had played a ball into the Maroons' box. Albaneze and Alison Lu both had a play on the ball, Albaneze boldly called her teammate off the ball, and then buried a shot behind the Chicago keeper. That goal held up thanks to a vaunted defensive effort over the final 34 minutes that included junior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill making three different 1-v-1 saves.
The result was the Ephs second national championship in three years, via a 1-0 decision over Chicago at the University of North Carolina Greensboro's Soccer Stadium. The win also set a record for single-season wins. Williams finished its season 22-1-1.
The game's first 20 minutes went to Williams as the Ephs came out and executed their style of play, possessing with precision passing, pressing high and pressure the Maroon ball handlers quickly to deny them much, if any, control of the ball. Chicago got settled after that though, and began finding a rhythm that resulted in a few scoring chances before the halftime break,
The final 45 minutes seemed more like a prize fight, with each team punching and counterpunching with regularity. With 34:30 remaining, Albaneze scored the game's only goal, but there was much drama remaining before the Ephs could claim another national championship.
The goal came out of a stop of an attempted clear by Eph back Danielle Sim, who collected the ball near midfield and flipped to Turner-Wyatt who immediately slotted a through ball in the air just past the outstretched leg of a Maroon defender. Lu was one step behind Albaneze and both alone with space, but it was the senior who called off her teammate and then popped a quick shot over Chicago keeper Miranda Malone.
It was the first goal the Maroons had allowed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Chicago immediately responded with increased intensity. Jenna McKinney fired a shot wide from the 18-yard line. Williams countered and Turner-Wyatt put a cross in to Kristina Alvarado, who was inside the six-yard box. Malone made a strong save to keep Alvarado's shot out.
Moments later, a Maroon midfielder sent a ball over the top and into the box. Maroon forward Madori Spiker had Sim to contend with while chasing it down, but muscled her way past the Ephs' defender and found the ball about 10 feet away from the goal on the right side. Barnhill came racing out of the net and blocked the shot with her legs, quickly gathering up the rebound.
"We went into those last 30 minutes with that mentality of just throwing our bodies at anything," Barnhill said. "Everyone worked harder than I've ever seen anyone work, that was just incredible. Without that work ethic, I don't think we could have stopped a team like Chicago, they are really incredible on the ball and off the ball. So I was really impressed with everyone."
With just over 19 minutes left in the contest, Maroon forward Katie Jasminiski had a golden opportunity to tie the game, running onto a pass in the box and sliding a shot along the ground that Barnhill got onto the ground to block. The rebound however, bounced away from the Eph keeper. Liz Webber attempted to clear, but the ball rolled from left to right, still in the box, as Maroon Mia Calamari raced to it. However, Ephs Sarah Kelly and Georgia Lord arrived at the ball simultaneously with Calamari, stuffing her attempt at a shot, and following a collision, Lord jumped up to clear the ball.
With just over 13 minutes to go, Jasminski lined up another attempt in the box, but it hit her teammate Spiker and was quickly cleared by Webber. The Ephs countered and an opportunity was created for Turner-Wyatt, but her shot was high.
Spiker hit the upper back post with just under 10 minutes left. With five minutes to go, Chicago attacked relentlessly down the flanks, and Maddy DeVoe's cross reached Jasminski in the six-yard box. However, she flicked the ball over the crossbar.
With just over a minute to go, the Maroons earned a late corner kick. Webber headed Calamari's delivery away, but the ball reached Hanna Watkins near the edge of the penalty box. Watkins curled a shot just wide of the post. The Ephs were able to keep the Maroons of the scored for the final 60 seconds.
Chicago finished with a 14-12 edge in shots, nine coming in the second half. Each team had four cornerkicks in the game. Barnhill finished with six saves, while Malone had one and Kate Donovan two for Chicago.
In the opening half, the Ephs had the better of the play early. In the ninth minute, Albaneze connected with Turner-Wyatt with a cross in the box, but Maroon goalkeeper Katie Donovan smothered the ball after Turner-Wyatt's first touch. In the 22nd minute, Albaneze sent in an early cross from the right wing, and Lu stretched to get a foot onto it, but the keeper, Donovan, made a close-range save. The ball deflected off the face of Donovan and was cleared by Maroon defenders.
The Maroons got settled and had an opportunity in the 24th minute. Defender Clare Suter played Spiker through in the box. Webber, however, raced across the box to make the tackle, and Kelly cleared the danger.
Williams countered in the 33rd minute when first-year Ilana Albert's cross from the left wing was deflected away by Chicago defenders. The ball bounced out to Alvarado, who rocketed a shot just over the crossbar.
With the game still scoreless, Barnhill's first big save of the game came five minutes into the second half. Again on a counter, Calamari found Striker in stride racing to the goal, but the Eph keeper came out and blocked her shot from about 5 yards out.
NOTES: Four Ephs were named to the 2017 All-Tournament Team. The Most Outstanding Offensive Player was Albaneze. The Most Outstanding Defensive Player was Barnhill. Danielle Sim and Alison Lu were also named to the All-Tournament team ... Williams did not allow a goal in the NCAA Tournament. In six games, they outscored their opponents 14-0 ... The Ephs current senior class — Sim, Albaneze, Gancedo, Jacqueline Simeone, Kate Sands and Hanna Kaeser have compiled a four-year mark of 82-5-6 at Williams, a .914 winning percentage. They are the first class at Williams to win 80-plus games in a four-year span, breaking the mark of 74 wins set by the 2016 seniors. They won two national titles, advanced to three final fours and earned their way to the NCAA quarterfinals all four years at the school.