December 1, 2017

Williams downs Hardin-Simmons to earn chance at 2nd title

Other Semifinal Recaps:  Women's Semifinal 1 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2

Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

Ephs sophomore Alison Lu takes a shot against Cowgirls keeper junior Caitlin Christiansen.

This afternoon, both remaining undefeated teams have their season end on the short end of a 0-1 scoreline as Williams prevailed over Hardin-Simmons in the women’s second semifinal. The Ephs put on a passing clinic, controlling possession and territory for long stretches of the contest which enabled them to keep the vaunted Cowgirl attack at bay until netting a late winner.

First Half

Unlike the first semifinal where fireworks commenced immediately this match opened more conventionally. The first five minutes were spent in the middle third with both teams knocking it around and connecting a few passes before turning it over. 

Hardin-Simons was first to approach their opponents 18 but a long cross sailed harmlessly wide. In the 38th minute Williams went on their first offensive foray and Cowgirl keeper Catlin Christansen passed her initial test. The Ephs began to control much of the play and were connecting well.

In the 15th minute, Georgia Lord came on for Jacqueline Simeone and quickly made her presence felt sending a dangerous ball into the box that Ephs’ leading scorer Alison Lu couldn’t quite get a foot on. Williams maintained pressure and Natalie Albanese powered a shot but Christansen handled comfortably.

Perhaps influenced by her ice hockey background in 25th, Coach Pinard called for “line change” as six Ephs subbed in. The Ephs were temporarily unsettled after that with HSU getting on the attack for the first time in many minutes.

In the 28th minute Hardin-Simmons made a curious choice, against commonly accepted practice, to defend a Williams two women corner kick with only one player and it cost them a dangerous cross in the six yard box which just missed connecting with onrushing NESCAC Player of the Year Danielle Sims.

The Cowgirls pushed play back to the other end of the field, but could not dominate possession in front of the Ephs goal. The pressure resulted in some steals near the Williams penalty box, but no dangerous shots.

Williams countered down middle of the field for a long blistering shot from Kristina Alvarado but straight at the Hardin-Simmons keeper. The remainder of the half was mostly uneventful.

Williams keeper junior Olivia Barnhill and the Ephs defense kept the Cowgirls off the board.

Summarizing the first half, the Ephs were on their front foot for most of the half with play predominantly in the Cowgirls’ defensive half. There was a bit of back and forth at times, but time of possession was heavily in Williams' favor. Hardin-Simmons seemed content to place two banks of four in front of their box and defend. They stepped up to press in the midfield at times when Williams faced their own goal but the Ephs maintained possession with precision passing. Williams showed off their roster depth with nine Ephs coming off the bench for a total of 165 minutes. The Ephs had six shots with four on target while the Cowgirls did not record a shot.

Second Half

The break seemed to do a world of good for the Cowgirls as play was much more even to start this half. The Hardin-Simmons bench and fans were energized when they earned their first corner of the match as the Cowgirls have been particularly effective at converting corners this season. Their enthusiasm was nearly rewarded when Kirsten Parrish headed a solid shot to the near post, but no joy as defender Sarah Kelly, stationed on the post, parried the shot.

Out of the scrum Williams countered on a long run down the center. Hardin-Simmons center back Evan Pipkin was able to negate the attack but unfortunately suffered a non-contact injury in the process and did not return.

At the 35 minute mark the Cowgirls earned their second and third corners of the half and match. The Cowgirls demonstrated their set piece prowess over the next few minutes. The Cowgirls were at their most dangerous during this stretch and only some emergency defending led by Danielle Sims kept it at nil-nil.

From that point forward Williams’ possession style began to regain control. The Ephs’ pressure forced play towards the Cowgirls’ defensive third. In the 63rd minute Williams made their second “line change”, this time in a wave of seven players.

In the 68th minute Cowgirl keeper Christansen calmly palmed a shot from distance over the crossbar. The resulting corner kick demanded an almost identical save. The shot went from sunlight to shadow adding to the degree of difficulty. Williams sold out on the set piece with their keeper Olivia Barnhill at the halfway line and two defenders twenty yards deep into Cowgirl territory. There were some more anxious moments for the Cowgirl defense over the next several minutes. Hardin-Simmons had difficulty clearing and only some yeoman work by Christensen kept the game level.

The Cowgirls finally managed to advance into the Ephs’ half of the field leading to a foul by Sims. After the direct kick from roughly 45 yards out, the ball caromed round the box for several moments with three or four Cowgirl touches but led to nothing toward the frame.

The winner came in the 85th minute.The Cowgirl defense was unable to clear a cross that dropped in right corner of the goal area. The Ephs’ Alison Lu scored the winner, her team leading 12th of the season, when she pounced on the loose ball and pushed it across the goal mouth to the far post.

With only five minutes to equalize Hardin-Simmons changed shape prior to the kick off but Williams went on to dominate possession and play keep away to kill off the game. 

At full time Williams had 17 shots with 10 on goal and while the heretofore prolific Hardin-Simmons attack managed only four in total and two on target. The Cowgirls came out in the second half energized and nearly grabbed the lead when they created multiple opportunities off a series of corners.  After roughly fifteen minutes though, Williams gradually reasserted control and began to place increasing pressure on the Hardin-Simmons until Lu’s late winner. 

Hardin-Simmons ends their season with a 23-1-0 mark (their first loss since September 1, 2016) and their second Final Four appearance since their 2010 championship run. Williams, now 21-1-1, move on to their third championship match in the past four seasons looking for the program’s second national championship.

Other Semifinal Recaps:  Women's Semifinal 1 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2
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