Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – The top-seeded Elms College women's soccer team earned their fourth straight trip to the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship game, defeating fifth-seeded Bay Path University, 3-0, in a semifinal match at Leary Field Wednesday night.
The Blazers (17-3-1) will host the title game against second-seeded Lesley University (15-4-3) at Leary Field Saturday afternoon. With the loss, the Wildcats concluded play for the 2016 campaign.
The Blazers pressured the Wildcats through a majority of the first half, but a stout Wildcat defensive effort limited the scoring chances of the Blazers even though Elms held a 13-1 advantage in shots during the first half. The best scoring chance for the Blazers came in the 38th minute as junior Brie Voight (Springfield, Mass.) possessed a loose ball on the edge of the box and fired a shot on net, which Bay Path freshman goalkeeper Caitlyn Esposito (East Haven, Conn.) punched away with a diving stop. The sides remained scoreless heading into halftime.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Elms broke the scoreless tie as sophomore Christina Leonardo (Enfield, Conn.) launched a free kick towards the back post, where junior Jackie Soucia (Belchertown, Mass.) headed the ball to the front of the net for a header finish by sophomore Kelsey Shea (Belchertown, Mass.) to hand Elms a 1-0 lead with 40:25 to play.
In the 59th minute of play, the Wildcats had difficulty clearing a ball away from the net with one defender hitting the turf, allowing Voight to pick up the loose ball and deposit it into the back of the net, pushing Elms ahead 2-0. With 9:21 remaining on the clock, the Blazers put the game away as Shea elevated and delivered the header finish on a cross Soucia to send Elms to the 3-0 victory.
The Blazers dominated the shot column, 20-1, during the contest. Elms freshman goalkeeper Rebecca Molin (West Hartford, Conn.) pushed her single-season shutout record to 14 in the win, while Esposito made a match-high six saves for the Wildcats.
"We're really happy to come out with the win today," said Elms College Head Coach Sean Milbier. "You have to give Bay Path a lot of credit, they came in with a good game plan, tons of energy, and they played a really good first half. I thought we had a lot of chances, and our defense held up as usual and didn't give [Bay Path] too many chances. We had a great half time talk, came up with a game plan of our own, and buried three really nice goals. [Bay Path] changed their formation from the last time we saw them, so we made some adjustments to free up space for our offensive players to get involved more in the second half. We knew [Bay Path] would come here and play aggressive and hard, everyone that watched this game probably thought we'd win by a big margin, but we knew it was going to be a tough match. Resiliency has been a big character trait for our team and it showed today. We're glad to be hosting the championship at Leary Field, it's a place we know how to get ready, and getting mentally prepared for a match is easier at home than on the road. We love Leary Field and we look forward to being back here on Saturday."
Voight netted her 18th goal of the season, setting a new single-season record for Elms, breaking the mark set by Jennifer Killion in 2009. Soucia's two assists push her season total to 13, breaking her single-season record of 11, set last season.