GRANTHAM, Pa. — Michelyne Pinard, who concluded her 18-year tenure as head coach of women's soccer on Sunday, says she is "leaving content" after a season that illustrated the core values Pinard has spent the past two decades working to instill.
"Last month, going from losing six games in six weeks, compared to six games in six years, most teams would have folded," Pinard said at a press conference after No. 24 Williams (11–5–4/6–3–1 in the NESCAC) fell to No. 1 Messiah (21–1–2/7–0–1 in the MAC Commonwealth) in a penalty shootout in the Elite Eight. "The fact that this team didn't means the world to me. And I've got to say, for all the coaches out there who are gunning for the Final Four: It's awesome, but really, it's the journey.
"The journey is what matters most. When we were down in September and October, I was wondering if our team culture — which I love, and I just think it's incredible — was a result of winning or was the result of having good core values. And I think this year showed that it was because our values were in the right place, and we stuck to those. I think that's the reason we were able to turn the season around."
Reflecting on her career, which has included a 268–51–38 record (good for a .751 winning percentage), eight NESCAC titles and three national championships, Pinard recalled not the trophies but the people and the core values that shaped the women's soccer program.
"I'm so grateful — I'm sad it's over, really sad it's over, so grateful for all the amazing people I've gotten to meet and work with, all the amazing women I've gotten to watch grow and thrive," she said. "I just feel like this has been the most amazing experience ever. I'm leaving content, so thank you."
Williams jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Messiah came back in the second half, scoring two goals in a span of 1:57 to tie the match. In the penalty shootout, Messiah goalkeeper Lydia Ewing made 2 saves to take the Falcons through to the Final Four.
A strong wind blowing in the direction of Messiah's goal in the first half and toward Williams' goal in the second influenced play throughout the match.
"The wind was a huge factor," Pinard said. "It was worth two goals a half — two for each team, four total. Getting the wind right away was a boost for us, and I'm glad we took advantage of it. Too bad we couldn't capitalize one more time — I think that would've helped a little bit. And then they did the same in the second half."
In the first half, the two teams put on a thrilling passing display, but it was Williams that struck first. Midfielder Georgia Lord '21 gave Williams the lead just three minutes into the match, curling a ball into the top-right corner from the left wing.
Despite strong midfield play, Messiah managed just one shot in the period, while Williams had 10 shots.
Forward Claire Tolliver troubled Messiah defenders with her speed throughout the half, and she doubled the Eph lead in the 26th minute. Tolliver received a pass from Aliosn Lu around the midfield line and darted forward with the ball. Cutting to her right, Tolliver sent a rocket of a shot into the top-right corner to make it 2-0.
Messiah went on the attack after halftime. Falcon midfielder Megan Mansfield found forward Abby Monko with a through ball in the 51st minute. One-on-one, Monko rounded the goalkeeper but was unable to angle a shot on net.
Forward Ellie Lengacher got the Falcons on the scoreboard in the 69th minute, scoring from close range after receiving a pass from McKenzie Swartley.
Less than two minutes later, Messiah tied it up when Maddie Kohl volleyed home a cross by Shelby Burger.
In extra time, Lord had a late one-on-one opportunity, but Ewing made a key stop. Shots finished 20-9 in the Ephs' favor at the end of regulation.
Ewing made saves in the second and third rounds of the penalty shootout to give Messiah the advantage. But the Falcons' third penalty taker missed, and goalkeeper Leyla Kamshad guessed right in the fourth round to keep the Ephs alive. Williams' final attempt, however, bounced off the crossbar and out, giving Messiah a 3-2 victory in the shootout.
Graduating for the Ephs are seven seniors: goalkeeper Whitney Lincoln, defender Sarah Kelly, tri-captain defender Liz Webber, tri-captain midfielder Erika Jung, tri-captain midfielder Sarah Scire, defender Nkem Iregbulem and forward Alison Lu.
Pinard expressed nothing but gratitude in her postgame press conference.
"I just could not be more proud of the players, the staff, the support staff — there are so many people behind the scenes that make this experience amazing for these young women," she said. "I'm proud to be part of the Williams athletic department, and there are so many things to be grateful for and thankful for — not only for the season but just my entire career."
She went on to thank her colleagues and coaches, Williams women's soccer alums and her family.
"Anybody who has ever been in college coaching knows that it's all-consuming, but it also takes a toll," said Pinard, who will become athletic director at the Thacher School next year. "My daughters … I love you guys. Thank you for sticking through this. My husband Dave — I wouldn't be here without you, professionally and personally, so thank you. I want to go back to actually today — that the grounds guys could make this happen today was unbelievable."
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