Williams Captures First NCAA Women's Soccer Championship

Williams Captures First NCAA Women's Soccer Championship

Courtesy of Williams Sports Information

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Williams women's soccer team captured the program's first national title when it defeated Washington-St. Louis, 1-0, in the NCAA Division III national championship game at Swope Park Village. The title is also the first for a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. 

It was only 12 months ago that the Ephs departed Kansas City with mixed feelings after playing Lynchburg to a scoreless draw over 110 minutes only to be denied the championship in penalties. Saturday, that was just a distant memory as Kristina Alvarado scored a late first-half goal off a nifty pass from Crystal Lewin, and the Ephs played a dominant second half to take home the title. 

Williams finished its season 21-1-2, its second straight 20-win season and the only two in program history. Washington-St. Louis concluded its season 20-3-1.

The lone goal of the title tilt came in the 42nd minute, as Crystal Lewin turned provider when Alvarado finished off a counterattack. Lewin unleashed the full speed of the first-year, whose first touch was superb, as she raced past her defender and slotted a shot cooly under the right arm of Crist.

The opening proceedings did not, however, leave the Ephs with the impression that they were going to keep a clean sheet, as Eph keeper Tressa Palcheck saw her crossbar rattled twice in the opening five minutes.

First, Hannah Rosenberg sent an early second-minute corner to the near post, right onto the head of the Bears' leading scorer, Olivia Lillegraven, who out-jumped her defender to flick a header toward the back post, where Katie Chandler was on hand to head the ball toward the goal. Palcheck had little chance to deny Chandler her goal, but Hanna Kaeser was on hand to wildly kick it off the line, launching it straight up and onto the crossbar, but the ball never crossed the line, before the danger ultimately evaporated.

Less than three minutes later, Chandler rocked the Ephs' woodwork again, as she was given space to blister a shot from 20 yards that dipped right onto Palcheck's crossbar, before it fell to an Eph defender to clear.

Possibly the best chance for the Bears to open the scoring in the first half came in the seventh minute, as Rachel Mickelson caught Gabz Amos-Grosser recovering after a foray forward, to jet through the Eph backline and go clean through on goal with Palcheck. Amos-Grosser, however, made up her lost ground and pressured Mickelson into knocking her attempt wide of the mark.

After the opening minutes, the Ephs finally settled into the game, as Natalie Turner-Wyatt played a weighted pass over the top of the Bear backline just before the ten-minute mark, searching for Kristi Kirshe, but the striker couldn't quite steer her shot away from the chest of Lizzy Crist in goal.

As the play cooled somewhat, Chandler found herself with a third look at opening the scoring in the 22nd minute, when she spotted Palcheck far enough off her line to have a crack at goal, but her effort drifted just wide of the left post.

The next chance fell to the Ephs right before the half-hour mark, as Lewin drilled a ball over the top, searching for the run of Alvarado, but Crist was quickly off her line to smother the ball before Alvarado could come in for a shot.

This chance was a mere foreshadowing of the Ephs' goal, as twelve minutes later the Ephs found themselves with a 1-0 lead just before halftime.

With 15 minutes to form a plan to find an equalizer, the second 45 minutes did not start the way the Bears had drawn it up.

Less than five minutes into the second half, Turner-Wyatt fed Kirshe through on the left side of the Bear penalty area for Kirshe to send a shot toward goal, but Crist dealt with the shot well to keep the Bears within striking distance of the Ephs.

Kirshe had another chance in the 58th minute to double the Ephs' advantage, after Audrey Thomas hit her perfectly in stride as she knifed through the Bear back line. However, there was enough pressure from a defender to force Kirshe to take a tame shot that Crist dealt with comfortably.

Ten minutes later, Lewin almost added her name to the scoresheet, after she received a pass from Katie Wardlaw that saw her shot go off the crossbar.

Moments after Lewin's attempt, Chandler had the Bears' best look to make the Ephs rue their missed opportunities. The junior ran the full length of the field before belting a long-range shot, desperately searching for the top corner, but Palcheck was able to watch it sail over the bar.

Three minutes later, Megan Nicklay stood over a free kick only 25 yards away from net, after Danielle Sim mistimed a clearance and caught Chandler late. The imposing junior defender watched as the free kick traveled well over the goal.

With only fifteen minutes to play, the Ephs expertly controlled possession and left the Bears nearly helpless to find a lifeline and send the game to extra time, but they engineered one final chance with just over a minute remaining.

Crist came all the way up from her position between the posts, to float a free kick from midfield into a dangerous area, but Palcheck was equal to the challenge, as she punched the ball away from danger.

The Bears finished with a 15-14 edge in shots. Crist made seven saves, Palcheck one.

Alvarado was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Tournament and also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team along with Mitsuyama, Kirshe and Natasha Albaneze.