On the familiar turf of Clothier Field this past weekend, the Swarthmore women’s soccer team defeated both St. Joseph’s College of Maine and Virginia Wesleyan University, launching themselves into the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Garnet, now ranked No. 12 in the country according to the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, could not have asked for a better string of results heading into their biggest game the season. The team dominated in the Centennial Conference tournament, defeating McDaniel 5-2 in the semifinals and Johns Hopkins 5-0 in the final, a team that was ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. In the first two rounds of the tournament, the Garnet easily made their way past St. Joseph’s and Virginia Wesleyan, winning 5-1 and 3-0, respectively.
On Saturday, in front of 600 fans braving the cold November winds, the Garnet continued their hot streak from the Centennial Conference tournament. Lizzie King ՚21 led the way against St. Joseph’s with two goals, while Grace Taylor ՚21, Sydney Covitz ՚20, and Sophia Stills ՚21 each added goals of their own. By winning on Saturday, Swarthmore advanced past the first round of the tournament for the fourth straight year.
On Sunday, the Garnet picked up where they left off. This time, it was two-time Centennial Conference Player of the Year and two-time All American Marin McCoy ՚19 who recorded two goals, one in the first minute and one late in the second half to seal the game. Maddy Carens ՚20 also added a header in first half to put the Garnet up 2-0. The team ended up recording their first clean sheet since their 3-0 win vs. Muhlenberg on October 24. By winning on Sunday, Swarthmore punched their ticket to the Sweet 16, something the team had not been able to do for the past two years.
The last time the team advanced past the second round of the tournament was in 2015, when the Garnet lost to No. 1 Messiah in the Elite Eight. Now, the freshmen from that 2015 team are senior leaders on this year’s team and have a golden opportunity to flip the script.
“[There’s] a level of confidence that I have not seen in my four years at Swat,” said captain Yasmeen Namazie ՚19. “Coming out of the playoffs last weekend, we were up 2-0 at half verse Hopkins and we were like ‘We can do this!’ And then we went out scored 3 more goals and it was like ‘Wow, we got this!’”
Coach Todd Anckaitis agrees.
“Every season is different. But this season, the way the captains have led and brought the team together is different,” said Anckaitis. “We are starting to hit things now at the right times and cleaning up the little mistakes that happen throughout the season. If we keep putting the ball in back in the net and the defense keeps holding it down, we are poised to make a run.”
Putting the ball in the back of the net has been no issue for this team as of late. Although the team had not matched their goal total from last season prior the Centennial Conference playoffs, Saturday marked the third game in a row in which the Garnet scored five goals. The only other team to do accomplish this feat was the aforementioned 2015 team. McCoy is a big reason for Swarthmore’s offensive success, but she points to the players around her as being key to the team’s performances.
“People on our team, on and off the bench, have shown that they can score goals,” said McCoy. “We have confidence that whoever is on the field can score the goal.”
McCoy is spot on. In the last four matches, all win or go home games, the Garnet scored 18 goals through eight different goal-scorers. The team appears to be clicking on all cylinders offensively, not just with McCoy, who has 14 goals and seven assists this season, but with every player that steps on the field.
“We have been playing so dynamically the past four games,” says McCoy. “The movement, the creating space for one another. I’m very proud of this team and it is so special.”
Anckaitis, while emphasizing the excellent play of seniors McCoy, Namazie, Caroline Coats, Melissa Curran, and Amy Shmoys, wants to bring attention to the talent that the younger players on the team have brought to the table.
“I keep reminding [people] that we have young players that haven’t gotten opportunities this year,” said Anckaitis. “But we have seen glimpses of their ability these past four games.”
All the way from the seasoned veterans to the young rookies, the Swarthmore women’s soccer team is poised for a deep run into NCAA tournament. On Saturday, the Garnet will travel to Vermont to play No. 3 Middlebury, a team that boasts a 16-1-3 record and won the NESCAC over Williams, 1-0. Middlebury defeated Ithaca College on penalty kicks to advance to the final 16 of the NCAA tournament, which they are hosting on their campus.
Although Middlebury is a formidable opponent, Swarthmore has hit their form at the right time and is more than up for the challenge. With their versatile offense, dominating midfield, and stout back line, the Garnet have a fantastic opportunity to knock off a top five team once again.