William Smith is on to the final!
|Other Semifinal Recaps: Women's Semifinal 1||Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com
|William Smith Herons celebrate after Julia Keough breaks the nil-nil deadlock early in the second half.|
William Smith and Pomona-Pitzer, two teams with devilish defensive identities, faced off in the second semifinal of the day. The winner would face the mighty Messiah in the 2019 NCAA Division III Championship game on December 7th in Greensboro, NC. Pomona-Pitzer came into the semifinal after outlasting Washington U. in a penalty shootout while William Smith overcame a strong John’s Hopkins team winning 2-0 on goals from Julia Keogh and Sheila McQueen. Both teams have immensely impressive defensive stats with Pomona-Pitzer not giving up a goal in the entirety of the tournament so far. William Smith have conceded only two throughout the tournament and four throughout the regular season, six total the entire year. These two teams just don’t give anything to opposition offenses. For those that appreciate good individual and collective defending, this would be a mouth-watering affair.
The first half did not disappoint, providing few surprises as the two teams refused to concede. William Smith did have the first attempt after winning the ball in the Sagehen’s end, but the shot was easily smothered by goalkeeper Isa Berardo. Berardo is one of the Pomona-Pitzer stars this season boasting a ridiculous .924 save percentage. She owns every goalkeeper record at Pomona-Pitzer and answered the call early to keep the score knotted at 0. Moments later, the Herons were on the attack again, and Amanda Adams whipped in a vicious cross that was nervously cleared for a corner as William Smith made their intentions known.
In the 35th minute, William Smith created a great opportunity and it was the result of their relentless pressure. Julia Keogh hustled the ball off a Pomona-Pitzer back before cutting inside of her and racing into the 18 yard box. She curled a low left-footed effort that Berardo dove and corralled on her second attempt. The Herons were knocking early. They piled on the pressure, but Berardo was in fine form stopping everything William Smith through at her. Moments later, a whirling cross came in from Sheila McQuillen that was drifting into the near upper 90 that Berardo grabbed cooly. She commanded her box like a 5-star general and called for calm from her team in the midst of a frantic first 10 minutes for the Sagehens.
The California based team finally settled and in the 14th minute, posed their own questions to the William Smith defense. After a composed stint of possession, the Sagehens made their way up the right side with some slick play that eventually found Chloe Hamer. She whipped in a dangerous delivery that forced Amanda Kesler, the William Smith shot-stopper, into action. She could only push the cross into the box, and when it fell to a Sagehen, the Heron defense reacted quickly to block the shot for a corner. The danger was not yet averted for William Smith as the resulting corner was whipped in, and though it was a Heron player that was first to meet it, the header careened towards the goal, and Amanda Kesler was again forced into action. She dove and pushed the ball away as it threatened the upper right corner. William Smith cleared and breathed a sigh of relief.
It was an exhilarating first 15 minutes as both teams came close to breaking the deadlock. The rain began to sprinkle as if to give the blessing of the soccer gods. Those in attendance at the UNCG Soccer stadium were treated to a fantastic half. Pomona-Pitzer settled into their quick short passing and possession game. They found their groove moving the ball neatly and confidently in midfield and around the back despite the intensity of William Smith’s pressure. The Herons showcased their more direct but deliberate attacking play with quick one and two touch combinations and the occasional Sheila McQuillen one on one duel down the right wing. The half ended 0-0 despite William Smith having the upper hand outshooting the Sagehens 8-1 in a half that started at 100 miles an hour but calmed as the two teams refused to concede.
The second half was even more entertaining as the game sprung to life early, with Julia Keogh finding the back of the net just 4:38 into the second half. William Smith broke down the right flank after losing possession in midfield but quickly won the ball back and found Amanda Adams racing down the right flank. She curled a pass into Julia Keogh on top of the box, and though her first touch was heavy, the defender failed to handle the loose ball. Keogh quickly poked it away and drove into the box unchallenged and dispatched a shot into the top right side of the goal exquisitely out of the reach of Berardo to give the Herons the 1-0 lead. Pomona-Pitzer looked to immediately respond with Sarah Jones going on a mazy run through midfield gliding by two William Smith defenders before setting to shoot from the top of the box, only for Elizabeth Moore to make a sliding challenge to dispossess the senior midfielder. The game exploded to life again five minutes later when the Herons won their first corner kick of the second half. They executed a play from the training ground to perfection with Genevieve Carpenter driving a pinpoint cross onto the head of Elizabeth Moore. She made no mistake from close range nodding into the bottom right corner to give William Smith a two goal lead. The Heron coaching staff are going to be especially proud of that goal as it was clearly something they’ve practiced many times in training.
Speaking of training, Pomona-Pitzer wouldn’t have had much practice at being two goals down as they had only once given up more than one goal this entire season. The Sagehens, however, threw caution to the wind in an attempt to get back into the contest. Two minutes after going down they created their best chance of the game with Helena Robinowitz finding space in midfield after some neat passing. She played a glorious pass across the field to a wide open Bria VarnBulher who’s first touch was excellent to take her into the 18 yard box, 1 on 1 with Amanda Kesler. VanBulher is Pomona-Pitzer’s leading goalscorer with 21 goals on the season and 45 points. If it was anyone they wanted to have a look on goal it was her. She fired on goal, but Kesler miraculously made the stop to preserve the Heron clean sheet. That was only the first wave of multiple attacks as the Sagehens, who were outshot 8-1 in the first half, poured on the pressure outshooting the Herons 8-4 in the second half. They would not go into the dark without a fight as they threw everything but the kitchen sink at William Smith in an attempt to preserve their campaign. It was not to be though, as the Herons’ stymie defense held strong. It was a valiant effort, but William Smith prevailed on the back of goals from Julia Keogh and Elizabeth Moore.
The Sagehens finish at 20-2-2 overall their most successful season in program history setting several single season team bests including most wins, most conference wins, and most shutouts along the way to their first appearance in the Final Four.
William Smith and legendary coach Aliceanne Wilber earned their sixth trip to the NCAA Division III championship match to face a familiar foe in Messiah. The two teams faced off earlier this season in Geneva, NY where William Smith handed the traveling Messiah their only loss this season. This will, however, be a different occasion, one with more pressure. One where two powerhouses face off for the right to be crowned national champions again. Messiah looks for a record setting sixth title and William Smith for its third. Time suggests that these two legendary programs will return to this prestigious title game again but only one will be crowned the 2019 National Champion. Who will it be?
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|Other Semifinal Recaps: Women's Semifinal 1||Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|