Women’s soccer two steps away from national championship

| Senior Sports Editor

The Washington University women’s soccer team has spent the 2018 season giving itself as large a margin of error as possible. The Bears scored 24 goals before they allowed one, surged from No. 10 in the nation to No. 1 within a month and finished the regular season undefeated to earn the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Hannah Menard leaps to win a header against the challenge from a Wheaton College player in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. The Bears travel to Greensboro, N.C. this weekend to take on Middlebury College in the NCAA semifinals, Friday Nov. 30.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Hannah Menard leaps to win a header against the challenge from a Wheaton College player in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. The Bears travel to Greensboro, N.C. this weekend to take on Middlebury College in the NCAA semifinals, Friday Nov. 30.

But now, there is no more margin of error. The initial 21 wins in the rearview, Wash. U. needs to collect two more without a loss to claim the title of best in Division III. The Red and Green face No. 3 Middlebury College in the Final Four Friday at UNCG Stadium in Greensboro, N.C. The winner moves on play the winner of No. 5 Williams College and No. 11 Christopher Newport University Saturday for the national championship.

In the semifinal, Wash. U. takes on Middlebury for the first time in school history with a chance to advance to its second final in three years. Middlebury has only lost once this season—to the aforementioned Williams, which it also beat in a rematch three games later. At the same time, the Panthers haven’t matched the potency of the Bears. While Middlebury has scored at a rate of 2.27 goals per game, the Bears have stood head and shoulders above the competition at 2.95 goals per game. And while the Panthers’ strong defense has held teams to 0.44 goals per game, the inimitable Red and Green back line has held steady at 0.24.

If the Bears see Williams Saturday, it will be just as tough a draw—Williams’s only loss, too, was to Middlebury. Williams, though, operates with much more uncertainty than Wash. U. The Ephs have played 16 of their 22 games to within one goal, while the Bears have put teams away early and often: Just five of their 21 games have had a zero- or one-goal margin. The Ephs have particularly flirted with danger in making the Final Four, advancing on a shootout in each sectional match.

If, on the other hand, the Bears meet Christopher Newport in a potential championship game, they’ll see yet another one-loss team. The Captains are one of few that can match the Red and Green’s offensive prowess, scoring 3.45 goals per game. They do so by taking more shots per game than the Bears (25.1 versus 24.8) and putting nearly half on target (.495 versus .457). If Wash. U. matches up with Christopher Newport in the final, its historic defense will have its hands full.

Against teams as talented as they are, Wash. U.’s depth will be a factor this weekend. Sixteen women have scored for the Red and Green this season; 14 multiple times. The Bears are a threat from any spot on the roster.

As impressive as the Bear defense is, one downside is that sophomore goalkeeper Emma Greenfield hasn’t truly been tested prior to seeing these elite teams. She’s only seen 23 opportunities, far less than the starting goalies on the other three teams, and has only a .783 save percentage—also far less than the others. If the Bears are to claim their second title, Greenfield won’t have to be Wash. U. great Lizzy Crist in the net, but she’ll likely face stronger attacks that will force her to step up to send the Bears home winners.

For head coach Jim Conlon, it’s an opportunity to make his fourth title game in 11 seasons at the helm, all of which have included a tournament appearance. Should the Bears win their final two contests, it’ll be their second championship after claiming the program’s first two years ago.