LEWISTON, Maine -- If the Bates College women's soccer team can earn a second straight NESCAC Championship, they'll have to do it traveling a familiar road.
Last season, the Bobcats were seeded fifth in the tournament and defeated three straight higher seeds in a row -- No. 4 Williams, No. 3 Bowdoin and No. 1 Tufts -- to earn their first conference crown.
This season, Bates (10-4 overall, 4-4 NESCAC) took the seventh and final seed, and has already dispatched No. 2 seed Tufts with a 2-1 overtime victory last Saturday in Somerville, Mass.
Junior All-NESCAC midfielder Molly Wagner
In order to return to the championship game, the Bobcats must find a way past top-seeded Amherst (11-1-1, 7-0-1 NESCAC) this Saturday in the first semifinal matchup of the tournament. No. 3 Middlebury (11-2-1, 6-2-1 NESCAC) and No. 5 Colby (9-2-3, 3-2-3 NESCAC) will meet in the following semifinal game at Amherst College, with the two winners facing off Sunday at noon at Amherst.
The host Jeffs are the top seed for the first time but have won the championship twice before, including a title game victory over Bates in 2003.
Amherst has two additional advantages going for it: the Jeffs surprised Bates, ranked No. 10 nationally at the time, 3-1 in the Bobcats' first conference games of the season. Plus Bates must play the rest of the season without All-America sweeper Meg Coffin, who suffered a major knee injury on Oct. 21 during a 5-0 loss at Middlebury.
But the Bobcats showed how dangerous and deep they are last Saturday at Tufts. First-year Jen Morse (Bedford, Mass.) replaced Coffin in Bates' starting lineup, and senior Mary Bucci (Norfolk, Mass.) scored her first two goals of the season. Bates has eight players with two or more goals this season, and three players -- senior Kim Alexander (Cumberland, Maine), sophomore Julie Brown (Lynnfield, Mass.) and sophomore Jen Marino (Methuen, Mass.) -- are ranked among the top 19 in the NESCAC in points. Sophomore goalkeeper Mia Lidofsky (Providence, R.I.) is ranked in the top six in the NESCAC in both goals-against average (1.11) and save percentage (.848).
Go to www.nescac.com for complete information on the 2006 NESCAC Women's Soccer Championship.