Lions conclude season, fall to unbeaten Williams

It was a familiar sight.

With 40 minutes left in their Nov. 22 NCAA Division III Tournament match with unbeaten Williams College, Jamie Kunkel and Coleen Weber had come together once more, combining on a goal that gave the Lions the lead and a clear path to victory.

But the formula that had carried the Lions through the first two rounds of the national tournament didn’t hold up against the top-ranked squad in the country, as the Ephs answered twice, recording a 2-1 decision that bounced the Lions out of the national title hunt.

“I’m so proud of these kids it’s not even funny,” head coach Joe Russo said. “We’ve had a slew of injuries. I give all the credit to Williams. I thought they played well. We just lost a bunch of people. We’re a shell of what we should be, but I don’t want that to be the focus. To get this far without eight starters, I’m ecstatic.”

Both teams had trouble finding their marks in the first half because of the miserable weather conditions, but five minutes into the second half Weber found Kunkel, who fired one high off the left crossbar. The redirect snuck behind junior goalkeeper Lauren Sinnenberg to put the Lions up 1-0.

The Ephs answered 13 minutes later as junior forward Sarah Walmsley found herself in a similar situation. Working off a feed from junior forward/midfielder Gabrielle Woodson, Walmsley rocked a shot off the post, tying the contest at 1.

Walmsley and Woodson penetrated the Lions defense again with 12 minutes remaining, this time doubling up the Lions’ junior keeper Jessica Clarke. Reversing roles, Walmsley fed Woodson with a crossing shot to set the final score of 2-1.

Clarke had seven saves on the day, wrapping up a phenomenal tournament performance for the Lions stopper. The junior keeper racked up 21 saves throughout the tournament and recorded two shutouts.

The Lions once again lived and died by one particular stat category – shots-on-goal. The Ephs outshot the Lions 17-10.

The top team in the country controlled the first half tempo, out shooting the Lions 10-4 before making good on two of their five second-half chances.

The loss wraps up the Lions’ season at 14-7-1. Once again, the team fell a few wins short of a national championship, but with their gritty play, they still managed to reach the round of 16 in the national tourney with a banged up group of players.

While they won’t make excuses, the Lion seniors are sure the returning underclassman will carry on the tradition of excellence that has made the squad a force in the NJAC and on the national scene over the past few years. As years pass, the performances of Kunkel, Weber and Clarke will not be forgotten and their efforts will not be underappreciated.

James Queally can be reached at queally2@tcnj.edu.