The team that kept going
The sound of the Amherst women's soccer team singing along in
their locker room to Pat Benatar's "All Fired Up" was still audible
halfway across Roy Rike Field as the sun rose over the beautiful day in mid-November.
The scene was Ohio Wesleyan University, host of the 2001 NCAA Division III Final
Four, where the Jeffs would face Wheaton College of Illinois in the first national
semifinal later in the day. The song, an obscure 1988 pop hit, had become the
theme to the Jeffs' implausible run through the post-season, a streak that had
them in Delaware, Ohio, playing in the national semifinals for only the second
time in school history, just over one monthand 10 consecutive winsafter
the low point of the season, a 2-0 loss at archrival Williams on October 13.
Lee-Jay Henry '05 drives
the ball against Bowdoin
"It was frustrating because we had totally outplayed Williams
in the first half, but when they came back at us in the second half we folded,"
said junior goalie Brooke Diamond. "If someone had told me after Williams
that we'd make it to the Final Four, I don't think I would have believed it. It
had been such a rough season for us already."
The season hadn't started out rough, however, as the 2000 ECAC
Champions opened the 2001 campaign with four consecutive wins, a streak capped
by a dramatic come-from-behind, 2-1 overtime victory at Connecticut College on
September 22, where senior Cathy Poor tied the game with just four minutes left
in regulation before first-year Tracy Montigny netted the game-winner 4:37 into
the second sudden-death overtime.
Though the win over Conn vaulted the Jeffs into the national rankings as the number-19
team in the country, it would be the squad's only appearance in the NSCAA poll
during the regular season, as they struggled to a 2-4-1 record in their next seven
games. The dismal stretch began with back-to-back losses to Trinity and Springfield
Colleges the following week, the first time the Jeffs had lost consecutive games
since 1994, and continued to and through Williams, where the two-goal defeat left
the Jeffs 6-4-1 through 11 games, in danger of missing the post-season altogether
for the first time since 1990.
"It was in a team huddle amid tears and shouting [after the Williams loss]
that we all realized that we were a lot better than we had been playing,"
said Diamond. "After the loss to Williams there was a new sense of urgency,"
agreed Poor. "We felt that we were in a must-win position from that point
on, and that the Mount Holyoke game was the beginning of the rest of our season."
It would be a good beginning to season number two.
Against the overmatched Lyons of Mount Holyoke, the Jeffs struggled through an
inconsistent first half before breaking into the scoring column in the 38th and
44th minutes on goals from senior Tri-Captain Margaret Rubin and junior midfielder
Brianna Porco. The second half, however, would be a different story as the visitors
exploded for seven goalsa single-half school recordto break the game
wide open. Nine different players registered goals in the 9-0 blowout, and the
Jeffs, for the first time in a month, finally looked like the same team that had
opened the season 4-0.
"The Mount Holyoke game was a major turning point," Head Coach Michelle
Morgan concluded later. "It was the first time we had really played well
together all season."
Two days later, the Jeffs faced a tougher test: hosting Little III rival Wesleyan
in both teams' regular-season finale. The Jeffs, with a 4-3-1 conference record,
needed a win or a tie to clinch a spot in the seven-team NESCAC Tournament, while
the Cardinals, who entered the game with a 2-10-1 record, were looking to play
Early on, it did not appear they would get the chance. Putnam headed home a cross
from sophomore Jenny Rossman in the 23rd minute to give the Jeffs a 1-0 halftime
lead, as the hosts dominated possession throughout the game's first 60 minutes.
The Cardinals, however, refused to go away, tying the game in the 62nd minute
on a blast from first-year student Corinne Case.
In what would become a recurring theme in the next few weeks, though, the Jeffs
charged right back. Less than two minutes after the Wesleyan goal, the Jeffs answered,
as Poor finished a feed from first-year student Lee-Jay Henry for the game-winner
in a 2-1 Amherst victory. With this win, the Jeffs ended the regular season in
a three-way tie for third place in the NESCAC, with the quarterfinals set for
fewer than 24 hours later at Bates, where the Jeffs drew Tufts University, the
2000 NCAA national runners-up.
Bates was familiar ground for the Jeffs, who completed a thrilling run through
the 2000 ECAC Tournament as the fifth-seeded team with a 3-2 triple-overtime victory
over the Bobcats in the championship game, after knocking off fourth-seeded Springfield
College, 1-0, in the quarterfinals and advancing past top-seeded Wellesley College
on penalty kicks. It would be at Bates, the same place where the 2000 season had
come to a dramatic close, that the Jeffs would begin a new year of post-season
Photo: Frank Ward