By BOB YORK
There’s a lot more going on in the Berkshires during the autumn months than just the change in foliage. Every fall, the northwestern corner of Massachusetts lures tourist buses across Route 2 and up Route 7 to where the roads intersect in Williamstown, a place the New York Times describes as “One of the loveliest communities in New England.”
Should you venture into this “loveliest of communities,” via a team bus, however, you’ll probably get an entirely different read on the locale. This is home to Williams College and – like most hosts who smear eye black on their faces – its athletes don’t take kindly to opponents invading their home turf. When it comes to challenging the Ephs’ women’s soccer team, however, the job at hand can get down right frightening. Of the 58 teams that journeyed here over the past four years, just one left town with a victory.
Equally daunting to their opponents is the fact that the Ephs rarely seem to encounter so much as a speed bump whenever they hit the road. Playing the role of “visitor,” has provided little to no fear factor for these young ladies. Their near flawless play has accompanied them to countless rival arenas where they have dropped just three games over the past four years. In fact, neutral sites don’t bother them, either. Back in December, they journeyed all the way to Greensboro, N.C., where they captured their second NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship in the past three years by trimming the University of Chicago, 1-0
“It’s been a great ride,” said senior tri-captain Danielle Sim, a former Phillips Exeter Academy standout and one of eight alums of New England Prep School Athletic Council schools who helped play a part in Williams’ title trek. “This was just an awesome way to end a career.”
Indeed it was. In fact, for Sim and fellow senior Kate Sands, a Greenwich Academy grad, it proved to be a pretty awesome journey – start to finish. During their four- year tour of duty, the Ephs turned Williamstown into Boomtown by chalking up two national titles, two New England Small College Athletic Conference crowns and an overall record of 82-4- 7, including a home showing of 54-1- 3.
Other former NEPSAC standouts on the 2017 Williams roster included juniors Ketelyn Long and Sarah Hollinger, who both came out of the Lawrenceville School, while the Rivers School produced sophomore Liz Webber and freshman Aspen Pierson. Junior Ana Alvarenga hailed from the nearby Berkshire School, while Sydney Jones, a freshman, graduated from Choate.
“The two best decisions I ever made in my life were to go to Exeter and then go to Williams,” said Sim, who not only wrapped up her collegiate career as part of a national championship, but also became one of the most decorated players in the country in doing so. “Exeter prepared me for the riggers of collegiate athletics with top-notch coaching, top-notch facilities and top-notch competition, while its challenging academic workload prepared me for the college classroom. I know I wouldn’t have been as successful here as I have been, had I not gone to Exeter,” added Sim, who is majoring in biology at Williams and planning on entering medical school in two years.
Following the NCAA tourney last fall, the former two-time NEPSAC All-Star and two- time Big Red MVP was named the United Soccer Coaches NCAA Div. III Player of the Year, as she helped backstop a stingy Ephs’ defense that limited opponents to just eight goals in 24 games – and none throughout the six-game NCAA Tournament. She was also named a Div. III Honda Athlete of the Year nominee for the sport of soccer. She is one of 11 finalists for the award, which will be voted on at the end of the academic year.
Other honors bestowed upon Sim saw her named a first-team United Soccer Coaches All-American, plus she earned a spot on the NCAA Division III All- Tournament Team. Closer to home, Sim became the first defender to ever receive the NESCAC Player of the Year honor, and was also named to the first-team NESCAC All-Star squad for a second time.
“I wish I could have Dani for four more years,” confessed Michelyne Pinard, who has been coaching women’s soccer at Williams for the past 16 years. “Unlike many of her teammates, she never played club soccer during the offseason, so, to me, she’s still fresh and just starting to hit her peak. She has the ability to play at the next level, but I know she’s ready to move on in another direction.” Pinard, who owns a 239-46- 29 record and whose .807 winning percentage makes her the sixth winningest coach in Div. III women’s soccer history, says the key to Sim’s success is “she’s just an incredible athlete, plus, she’s very competitive and is constantly trying to improve.”
What Pinard liked most about this national championship squad – one that went 21- 1-1 on the season and enabled her and her assistants to be honored as the United Soccer Coaches National Div. III Staff of the Year – was the way everyone on the roster had an impact on its success.
Pinard doesn’t define her players as starters or non-starters, “because we have many outstanding athletes here and I feel very comfortable calling upon any player at any time to go in and compete and I have full confidence that that’s exactly what they’ll do,” she explained. The way she described it, she didn’t have 11 starters on this year’s team, “I had 30 of them.” With Sim as the face of the franchise, NEPSAC ended up playing a huge role in the Ephs’ success this fall, as more than one-quarter of the roster – eight of 30 players – attended member schools.
“Williams College is first and foremost an academic school,” said Pinard. “The work load here is a demanding one and we’re always searching for student-athletes who can meet those demands. We search throughout the country and around the world for our student-athletes and we know first-hand that those who come here from NEPSAC schools are well prepared for the high level of academics and the high level of athletics they will find here.”
In addition to Sim and Sands, Pinard got a big rookie season out of forward Sydney Jones (Choate) as she tied for fourth on the scoring charts with 11 points on five goals and one assist. Sophomore midfielder Liz Webber (Rivers), meanwhile, contributed two goals and three assists for seven points, while freshman midfielder Aspen Pierson (Rivers) posted one assist. A pair of Lawrenceville grads: junior forward Sarah Hollinger and junior back Katelyn Long both saw extensive action this past fall, as did junior forward Ana Alvarenga (Berkshire).
“I’m not surprised, but I am very gratified with the success Dani has met with at Williams College,” said Hilary Coder, Sim’s coach at Exeter. “She was such a talented athlete that she was the player who always filled in the gaps we had on the team and because of that, she sacrificed a lot of her game for the good of the team by playing three different positions here over a three-year span.”
Sim found herself situated at midfield for the Big Red her sophomore season, while she moved up to a forward slot her junior year and responded by becoming one of Exeter’s leading scorers that season with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points. Her senior year, however, she was switched to defense, the same position she would shine at for four years with the Ephs.
“Dani was a no-talk- all-action kind of player,” remembers Coder. “She was very even tempered and a lovely teammate … very warm and affectionate off the field. On the field, though, she was deeply competitive but without ever being overly aggressive. She had too much of a reverence for the game and her team to overstep her bounds.”
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