Saturday was a horrible day to be outdoors in the Northeast: mid-40s temperatures combined with drenching rain and strong win gusts made spring seem miles away. But for the women’s lacrosse team, there was nowhere they would have rather been than Yale’s Johnson Field.
The nationally ranked No. 9 Bulldogs (12-3, 6-1 Ivy) snapped a three-year losing streak to No. 13 Cornell (9-5, 3-3) with an 11-5 win. With No. 6 Princeton (10-4, 5-1) edging previously undefeated No. 8 Dartmouth (9-3, 6-1) 10-9, Yale earned a share of its first Ancient Eight title since 1980 and a chance to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1984.
“It was an incredible team moment,” midfielder Miles Whitman ’04 said. “We were so genuinely happy for each other that we were able to get this win for ourselves and especially for the seniors. We definitely proved to ourselves and to the rest of the Ivy League what kind of program we are.”
Despite a guaranteed Ivy League crown, there is still uncertainty in Yale’s NCAA tournament bid. If Princeton beats Brown May 3, there will be a three-way tie for the league title between Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale. Since each of the three teams split with the other two, there is no head-to-head winner for the league’s automatic bid. In this scenario, Jeffrey Orleans ’67 LAW ’71, executive director of the Ivy League, will conduct a drawing to determine who gets the bid.
If Yale losses the drawing or if Princeton losses to Brown, the Elis will hope for an at-large bid.
“Right now, we just recognize that some of this is very up in the air,” Whitman said. “We need several things to happen in order for the result that we want to occur.”
Before the start of Saturday’s contest, league watchers forecasted a duel between Tewaaraton candidates Whitman and Cornell’s Sarah Averson. Averson came to New Haven leading the league in points per game (3.83), while Whitman was third (3.17).
But it was Whitman who dominated Johnson Field Saturday. The midfielder sent a loud message to the Tewaaraton selection committee, tallying a career-high seven goals, only one off an assist. For her performance, Whitman was Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.
Cornell struggled the entire afternoon on single coverage of Whitman, who used her speed to break past her defenders in one-on-one situations. When the Big Red resorted to double-teams, Whitman found open teammates.
“What do you say about that kind of performance,” Yale head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “She just did an incredible job: she was unselfish with the ball, but when she had the opportunity she made it count.”
Averson, on the other hand, faltered. Much of the credit goes to midfielder Sarah Driscoll ’05 who was again assigned to the difficult task of face guarding one of the top scorers in the league. Driscoll’s shutdown of Princeton star and Tewaaraton candidate Theresa Sherry –Driscoll held Sherry to just one goal and no assists — was instrumental in Yale’s 7-6 victory over Princeton April 12.
Driscoll’s performance Saturday was equally stunning, holding Averson, the league’s scoring and points leader, to just one goal and no assists.
Cornell as a team also did not play up to form. After averaging 10 ground balls per game more than Yale during the season, the Big Red tied the Bulldogs in that statistical category Saturday. Cornell also led the Elis in draw controls per game prior to Saturday but lost the faceoff count during the contest 9-8. Cornell suffered the worst reversal of fortune in shots attempted; while leading Yale in that category before coming to New Haven, the Big Red lost the battle 24-18 Saturday.
Part of the credit goes to Yale’s defense, which not only kept Averson out of the net, but nearly every other Cornell player as well. The Big Red could not put any cohesive offense together, ending the day with only one assist. Comparatively, Yale had three assists, each from a different player.
Especially noticeable was the discrepancy in the performances of the goalies for the two respective teams. Yale’s Amanda Laws ’03 recorded eight saves of 18 shots; Cornell’s starting goalie Ashley Charron was a dismal 1-for-11 in just over a half of work. Charron’s replacement Maggie Fava did not fare too much better, going 4-for-13.
“It takes a team to a different level to have a goalie like Amanda [Laws],” O’Leary said. “And with the confidence she’s been showing and the performance she’s been a huge asset for us.”
Yale took the strategy of “score early, score often” to heart, netting the first four goals of the game, all within the span of seven minutes. Whitman accounted for three of those goals while captain Clarissa Clarke ’03 converted a pass from attacker Sarah Queener ’03 for the fourth.
After Cornell’s Julia Hugley scored back-to-back goals, Yale answered with two of its own. By halftime, Yale had opened a 7-3 lead. Yale’s concentration did not die in the second frame; the Bulldogs outscored Cornell 4-2 to seal the win.
The Bulldogs will close their regular season today hosting Hofstra (8-7), a name not too fondly uttered in the Bulldog locker room. Last season, Hofstra’s 9-8 upset of Yale smothered the Elis’ chances of an at large bid to the NCAA tournament.
This season, Hofstra possess the same threat. If Yale does not receive the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, a repeat upset by Hofstra would make it easier for the NCAA selection committee to deny the Bulldogs a second time.
“We would all love to play in the tournament, and we all have our fingers crossed,” Whitman said. “But we all realize that we have to play a good game tomorrow and take it one step at a time. Hofstra is a very good team, and they beat us at the end of last season. So we would love to pay them back.”