The women of Eli soccer will mount up this weekend as they go westward to face some of the stiffest competition in the nation.
The newly anointed nationally-ranked No. 19 Bulldogs (5-0-0) are headed to Palo Alto, Calif. for the Nike Invitational where they will face two perennial national title contenders — Santa Clara (2-2-1) on Friday and the host Stanford (3-2-0) on Sunday.
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll has the Elis sitting on top in the Northeast Division.
Forward Mimi Macauley ’07 said the players are excited about the rankings, but they know they can no longer surprise their opponents.
“We have [the rankings] up in the locker room,” Macauley said. “It makes us really excited, but now we know that every team will come to us and we won’t be the underdog. Everyone is going to bring their A-game to us.”
In Santa Clara and Stanford, the Bulldogs will meet two teams that are very familiar with being in the national spotlight. Santa Clara won the national title in 2001 and has gone deep into the NCAA College Cup Tournament every year for the last decade. The Cardinal has also been a fixture in the national rankings through the years.
But the streaking Bulldogs are off to their best start in program history. With five victories and no losses, the Elis are one of 13 undefeated teams remaining in Div. I. Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said coming into the season he never would have expected a victory on the upcoming trip, but now that has changed.
“Three months ago I would have just wanted to play well [against Santa Clara and Stanford],” Meredith said. “But the kids have raised my level of expectations just because of the way they’ve been playing.”
Meredith said he now believes the team can come away with a tie or a victory in at least one of the two games.
Forward Vanessa Resnick ’05 said the team sees this trip as an opportunity to play against some of the best competition in the nation and a chance to see the teams Yale hopes to be playing in November.
“We have such a great attitude,” Resnick said. “Everyone’s just excited to be part of the team. Especially our West Coast players are so happy to be going out there. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to go out there and see how we do.”
Midfielder Mia Arakaki ’05, a Berkeley, Calif. native, will get to play near home in Yale colors for the first time in her last season. Along with Arakaki, the Bulldogs have four other players indigenous to the Golden State.
“I’m definitely excited to go to California,” Arakaki said. “I think it’s because going to school so far away, it’s hard for your family and friends to come see you play. It’s added incentive to show what you’ve been up to away from home.”
Arakaki went on to say that this game is in some ways bigger than Yale versus Santa Clara or Stanford, but also East Coast soccer versus West Coast soccer.
“I think we want to show that we deserve to be top 25 [in the nation],” Arakaki said. “We want to show teams outside of our region that we have the capability to play among some of the best teams in the nation. There’s always been somewhat of a discrepancy between East Coast and West Coast soccer.”
While the Bulldogs are confident they can return with a win from the Pacific rim trip, they say they know these will be two of their toughest opponents this season. But even if they cannot come away with victory, the Elis say, their confidence will be intact, and they will be ready for Ivy competition, which begins a week from Friday at home against No. 17 Princeton (3-0).
“To be honest, I think obviously we want to win, but our big focus is on Princeton,” Arakaki said. “Clearly this weekend is very big for us, one of the big tests for us this season, but really, if we don’t win these games this weekend, it won’t be that devastating. We’ll regroup and be ready for Princeton.”
Meredith said it is important to note that Princeton is ranked higher than Stanford and the Tigers have dominated the Ivy League for several years.
“Princeton has been the dominant team in the league for the last five years,” Meredith said. “I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting pumped up regardless of what happens in California.”