William and Mary’s meeting with Radford Friday night at Busch Field had all the hallmarks of a trap game.
The Tribe entered the game with an unblemished record, having dominated all four of its previous opponents — but a crucial Sept. 11 matchup against No. 6 Virginia loomed in the distance. Radford, meanwhile, had not won a game all season and was ready to pull an upset. The Tribe could not be caught looking forward to next week. It had to take care of business against Radford.
The College did exactly that, dominating the Highlanders with three first half goals en route to a 4-0 victory. The win drives the Tribe’s record to 5-0, its best start since 2006.
“It was a really good win, I think we came together a lot better today,” senior midfielder Leah Zamesnik said. “Our passing patterns were way better than the majority of the season. Obviously, we should have had some more goals but we finished strong — a good win to take us to U.Va.”
The Tribe thoroughly dominated the first half, which took place mostly in Radford territory as College attackers relentlessly pressured the Radford defense. It wasn’t until midway through the half that the Tribe converted one of its many chances into a goal.
Sophomore midfielder Emma Clifton carried the ball from the right side and passed it to senior forward Ashley Kyle. Kyle took the ball and slipped it past Radford goalkeeper Sidney Encarnacion to give the College a 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, Clifton put the Tribe on top 2-0 by virtue of an assist by senior midfielder Christine Johnson. Johnson took the ball off a corner and then took a shot. Encarnacion made a save, but the ball bounced back to Clifton, who seized the opportunity and put it in.
“I think I was really lucky and well set up by the girls; they really provided a good base and feed it into the circle and all I had to do was hit it in,” Clifton said. “I was really lucky and the team played really well.”
Clifton wasn’t done, either. Ten minutes later, shecharged toward the Highlanders’ goal and took a shot. It careened off the back post and senior midfielder Allison Moran took advantage, putting it in and giving the College a 3-0 lead with five minutes to go in the first half. The goal was Moran’s fourth on the season and Clifton’s second assist of the game.
“Emma is just steady. She has just been such a rock for us this season,” Hawthorne said. “She’s been playing good defense, her receptions are really good, she sets up a lot of our offense. She’s a transformed player, she’s fit and ready to go and she’s got a much more positive attitude on the field and it really shows. She’s a leader out there.”
While the Tribe dominated the first half, Radford crept back into the game in the second half. The College did not get as many opportunities to attack as the Highlanders stepped up their aggressive plays. Radford did not register any shots in the second half but kept the Tribe on its heels.
The College attackers did not register a goal until the final minutes of the game, as freshman forward Pip Saunders scored to create the final 4-0 margin.
“We did make a lot of substitutions in the second half, and were trying to get some experience for some of our younger players and they generated attack,” Hawthorne said. “We had 17 shots in the first half, 11 in the second, so we kept up the pressure but just didn’t have that finishing touch, and that’s the frustrating part, but certainly we maintained possession for the majority of the game and were able to work it around.”
The College defense was steady for the majority of the day as senior goalkeeper Elizabeth Frey registered two saves in 70 minutes of action. Frey was aided by an impressive performance by Johnson and senior defender Maria Caro.
With a 5-0 record, the Tribe now turns its attention to Tuesday’s crucial matchup against U.Va. The Cavaliers will bring a 5-2 record to Williamsburg after falling to No. 14 Northeastern Saturday.
“U.Va. is killing it right now, they are just dominating everyone, more or less, so it’s a good confidence booster so we are just going to have to bring it against them,” Zamesnik said. “We played them really tight last year, I think it was 4-3, and we always step up our game when we play them, so I think being 5-0 already going in, we aren’t going to want that first loss, for sure.”