|Other Previews: Women’s Semifinal 1||Men’s Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
By BJ Pheasant
NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer – National Semifinal 2
|Friday, December 1 — 1:30 pm ET
No. 5 Hardin-Simmons (23-0-0)
No. 6 Williams (20-1-1)
How they reached the Final Four
2017 Statistical Overview
Hardin-Simmons Season Review
Hardin-Simmons is the No. 5 ranked team in the nation entering the tournament as the AQ from the American Southwest Conference. With a roster featuring the last three ASC Offensive Players of the Year and a two-time ASC Defensive POY, HSU strolled through the American Southwest Conference for its 15th-straight conference title.
The Cowgirls are very good defensively, allowing just four regular season goals, but the offensive numbers pop off the stat sheet with a nation-leading 110 goals on the season that equates to 5.14 goals per game, the top mark remaining in the NCAA tournament. They’ve scored at least six goals in nine of 21 games and have only been held to one goal on two occasions early in the season and twice now in the tournament. Junior Kenne Kessler (2017 ASC Offensive POY, 2016 ASC Midfield POY) led the country in scoring with 37 goals and 9 assists. Serving the ball up is junior Josey Meyer who leads the nation with 24 assists. Senior defender Kristen Parrish (two-time ASC Defender of the Year) is second on the team in goals with 14 to go along with 9 assists. Senior Kami Jones (two-time ASC Offensive Player of the Year) led the team in goals in previous seasons, but injury cost her the middle third of the season and limited her production and is lurking in the wings to pick up any slack. Goalkeeper Caitlin Christianson has started all 21 games, leading the way to 15 shutouts with her 0.33 GAA (8th nationally). Tiffany Van Hoose is a three-time 2nd team All-ASC defender who patrols in front of the goal along with Parrish.
Both the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games were late one goal decisions in favor of the Cowgirls who relied on their defense as, perhaps, the weakest strength of schedule (76th) of the final four teams may have affected their offense that was used to running over opponents. It should be noted that teams in the west (including Texas) have a dearth of regional opponent choices without incurring significant travel costs, both dollars and time. Against Carnegie Melon the Cowgirls were outshot 17-6 including Tartan shots off the goal post. They managed a corner kick goal in the 77th minute to survive and advance. In the Elite 8 the overall shot total went to Ohio Northern 6-5, but Hardin-Simmons rallied to win the second half with a 4-0 shot advantage and scored their lone goal in the 63rd minute following up a rebound and advancing to the Final Four attempting to win their second national title (first in 2010).
Williams Season Review
The No. 6 ranked Ephs are the automatic qualifier (AQ) from the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which has five entrants into the national tournament. The Ephs have been on a tear over the last five seasons with five straight Sweet 16’s or better (only one other school, Messiah, matches that streak). Williams was national runner-up in 2014, national champion in 2015 and have an experienced squad.
In the 2017 the Ephs were 8 minutes away from an undefeated regular season while playing six tournament participants. They are led by senior defender Danielle Sim, the NESCAC Player of the Year—the first defender to earn that honor. Combining with Sim in the back to only allow 7 goals on the season is junior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill with a 0.41 GAA (#11 in Div. III) and .851 Save Pct. Offensively they are led by sophomore forward Alison Lu with her 10 goals, 5 assists and 4 GWG and senior forward Natasha Albaneze with 6 goals, 10 assists and 4 GWG. They are backed up by senior midfielder and All-NESCAC First Teamer Evan Gancedo (4g, 1a).
During second weekend play both games followed a similar blueprint. Against Cal Lutheran in the Sweet 16 the Ephs scored a goal early in the first half and then added three early in the second for a 4-0 win. In the Elite 8 against Johns Hopkins the Ephs again scored an early 1st half goal and then two early in the second half to win 3-0 and move on to the Final Four attempting to win their second national championship (first 2015).
Seniors’ 4-year Record (through Nov. 19)
Players to Watch
Hardin-Simmons: #28 F Kenne Kessler (Jr.) 37g (1st nationally), 9a, 6GWG (ASC Off. POY, 2016 ASC MidOY, 3x ASC 1st team) | #13 M Josey Meyer (Jr.) 1g, 24a (1st nationally) (ASC 1st team) | #16 D Kristen Parrish (Sr.) 14g, 9a, 3GWG (2x ASC Def. POY, 3x ASC 1st team, 2016 D3soccer.com 2nd Team All-American) | #15 M Kami Jones (Sr.) 5g, 8a, 2GWG (2x ASC Off. POY, 2x ASC 1st team, 2016 NSCAA 1st Team All-American, 2016 D3soccer.com 2nd Team All-American) | #34 GK Caitlin Christiansen (Jr.) 0.33 GAA (5th nationally) .867 SvPct (2x ASC 2nd team)
Williams: Williams: #21 D Danielle Sim (Sr.) (NESCAC POY, 2x NESCAC 1st Team) | #10 M Evan Gancedo (Sr.) 4g, 1a (NESCAC 1st Team) | #16 F Alison Lu (So.) 11g, 5a, 4GWG (NESCAC 2nd Team) | #26 F Natasha Albaneze (Sr.) 9g, 10a, 4GWG (2x NESCAC 2nd Team) | #1 GK Olivia Barnhill (Jr.) 0.37 GAA, .877 SvPct (NESCAC 2nd Team)
Surprisingly, with all the tournament success this will be the first ever meeting between the Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls and the Williams Ephs.
Hardin-Simmons looks stronger statistically, especially offensively, but their strength of schedule at 76th may be a factor. As for the Ephs, they have compiled impressive statistics on defense. They are a proven group battle-tested by markedly stronger competition than HSU as measured by strength of schedule.
Both teams have stingy back lines having allowed only 5.5 shots per game and 7 goals and 7.5 shots per game and 8 goals, respectively, for Hardin Simmons and Williams. Both defenses will be tested in this semifinal contest and will find it difficult to keep the offensive talent on each side at bay for 90 minutes. HSU has 110 goals on the season (with assists on 97 of them) while the Ephs have just 55 goals. However, in the tournament Williams has 12 goals and the Cowgirls 8. Both teams have experienced players all over the field.
The Cowgirls are ranked fifth in the country. They have an undefeated regular season only allowing four goals while only being held to one goal scored on two occasions early in the season and twice in the tournament. With a stout defense and an overwhelming offense led by the potent combination of the country’s assist leader (Josey Meyer, 24) and goal-scoring leader (Kenne Kessler, 37), not to mention having previous leading scorer Kami Jones back in the line-up. Caitlin Christiansen for Hardin-Simmons is #1 ranked with a GAA 0f 0.22.
Hardin-Simmons led by Coach Wood has an impressive history appearing in the tournament 16 of the past 18 years. They have 9 Sweet 16s. After last weekend they have an all-time tournament mark of 24-12-9 highlighted by 2010’s national championship.
The Ephs are the sixth-ranked team in the nation and have significant more recent tournament success. The Ephs have five straight Sweet 16’s or better (only one other school matches that streak) including being national runner-up in 2014 and champions in 2015. They were 8 minutes away from an undefeated 2017 regular season and have rolled through the tournament thus far.
Williams also has an impressive history including 19 all-time appearances and eleven consecutive trips to the tournament. They have 9 Sweet 16s. After last weekend they have an all-time tournament mark of 33-16-6 highlighted by 2015’s national championship.
Both teams seem to have similar past success and experienced coaches. The game is on the east coast. It is an established disadvantage to travel east over multiple time zones (and much less of an issue to travel west over multiple time zones). With a tight game little things matter. The Ephs have been better in the tournament (yes, at home). I give a slight advantage to the Ephs over the Cowgirls at an east coast tournament site, but both teams are determined and it is a real possibility the game could go to penalty kicks.