After concluding the regular season with a scoreless tie against Haverford on Saturday, the Swarthmore woman’s soccer team (11-5-1, 6-3-1 Centennial Conference) moved on to the postseason. The Garnet’s conference record was good for a tie for 4th place with Muhlenberg College (8-8-2, 6-3-1 Conference). However, since the Mules defeated Swarthmore in their sole match this season, Swarthmore will travel to Allentown, PA Thursday night in a Hurricane Sandy-delayed play-in game, with the winner moving on to face top-seeded Johns Hopkins (14-3-1, 9-1 Conference) in Baltimore on Saturday.Though Swarthmore clinched a playoff berth with its resounding 3-0 defeat of Bryn Mawr last week, it entered Saturday’s tilt with Haverford with much on the line. A win would have moved the Garnet past both Muhlenberg and Haverford in the Conference standings, placing the team in 3rd place and giving them a first round playoff bye. The importance of the match was not lost on captain and defender Ariana Spiegal ‘13, who also pointed out the added emotion that came with playing on senior day, saying that, “for the seniors, it was our last regular season game that we would ever play on Clothier field, so I think the whole team resonated with the fact that we needed to play our hearts out”.As was to be expected in a matchup of two of the Centennial Conference’s best defenses, the match was a fierce battle played out primarily near midfield. With so much riding on every opportunity, “momentum shifted back and forth every five minutes,” in the words of defender Ellen Bachmanhuff ‘15. Though chances were few and far between for both squads, it was the Garnet who found themselves on the defensive more often. Haverford managed 22 shots, 8 shots on goal and 12 corner kicks, while Swarthmore struggled to advance the ball, attempting just 9 shots, 3 shots on goal and 3 corner kicks.
One of Swarthmore’s best chances came in improbable fashion when, late in the second overtime, Bachmanhuff blasted a free kick from midfield. The kick deflected off, and past the goalkeeper, but bounced just wide of the net. Despite his team’s late flirtation with victory, however, head coach Todd Anckaitis recognized that the team could have played better, commenting after the match that, “it wasn’t our best soccer.” That being said, the very fact that the Garnet managed to prevent Haverford from finding the back of then net on any of their 22 opportunities is testament to a superb effort from a Swarthmore squad that would bend, but not break.
Despite his acknowledgement that the Garnet were not at their best on Saturday, Anckaitis praised his team’s effort, saying that, “I was proud of the fight we showed”. He added that, “The women worked really hard on the field and fought shoulder to shoulder with each other to represent the college, their seniors and each other”.
After the game, Swarthmore quickly turned its focus to its upcoming matchup against a Muhlenberg team that handed Swarthmore its most recent defeat. Bachmanhuff emphasized that despite the loss and the fact they will be playing on the road, Swarthmore will not be intimidated, saying that, “Despite what the rankings say, we are not underdogs”. She also hinted that the team has an added chip on its shoulder as it tries to avenge the October 17 loss. “We are angry and ready to come out fighting”, the defender said. Anckaitis was confident that the team would put forth a stronger performance than it did the last time the two teams met, saying that “our defense and goalkeeping has been stellar the last several games so I think we’re in pretty good shape to have success and advance to Saturday”.
Hurricane Sandy ground the entire east coast to a halt. Swarthmore College was no exception, and the school’s closure meant no practice for the Garnet on Monday and Tuesday, making preparing for Thursday’s game a difficult task. However, the Garnet players appear to be using the extra time off to reflect on the Muhlenberg loss and gain motivation. “We can’t practice, so that is never an ideal situation” Speigal said, “but I think our team is very well aware of how we can beat them and remembers how it felt to loose to them”. Anckaitis also pointed to the team’s past ability to deal successfully with adversity, saying that, “we have always responded well to adverse conditions happening around the program so I’m confident we’ll be ready when game time rolls around”.
Swarthmore may be the 5th and lowest seed in the conference playoffs, but the Garnet know that they are no underdogs. Prepared, and excited to avenge their previous loss, Swarthmore appears ready to challenge Muhlenberg, Johns Hopkins and whoever else stands in their way of a Centennial Conference title this weekend.