On Sept. 24, 2004, it was a streaking Princeton squad that steam-rolled into New Haven and left with the first of seven straight Ivy League victories in hand. Exactly one year later, the Bulldogs and Tigers square off again. But this time, the reigning Ancient Eight champs have only a single win to their name in their fifth week of play. With the confident Bulldogs soaring in the midst of a six-game roll, the roles appear to have been reversed as the teams face each other tomorrow night in New Jersey.
After a stellar opening to their schedule, hanging close in games against ACC powerhouses Duke and North Carolina and then coasting to six straight wins, the Bulldogs (6-2) waste little time before getting to battle their traditional adversary. Yale-Princeton has been a fierce and storied — albeit lopsided — rivalry since the programs first met in 1980, with the Tigers holding a 17-6-2 advantage in the series.
Captain Eleni Benson ’06 said that, with the last Yale victory against Princeton coming the season before the Class of 2006 arrived, the seniors on the team have extra incentive to get a victory tomorrow night.
“We’re looking to go out with a win against Princeton,” she said. “We don’t want to leave without beating them.”
Looking at their record, the Tigers (1-3-2) have hardly lived up to their lofty reputation as the Ivy League’s premier program this season. Their lone win has come against Loyola Marymount Sept. 10. Even that was in a consolation game at the Princeton Invitational, and the Tigers needed overtime to put away the unranked Lions. While the Elis can boast of a six-game run during which they outscored opponents 13-1, the only streak the Tigers can speak of is their three-game unbeaten stretch where they posted ties against Connecticut and Boston University after the victory over Loyola.
Although the Tigers own the worst non-league record in the Ivies, the importance of tomorrow’s game has hardly diminished.
“This is still by far the most important game of the year,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Like us, they also played some ranked opponents, and they played two games without one of their best players.
Indeed, Yale, coming in at No. 24, will be the fourth nationally ranked team the Tigers have played this season, adding to losses to No. 3 UCLA and No. 22 Arizona and last week’s tie with No. 18 UConn. Additionally, first-team All-American Diana Matheson missed the first two games while playing with the Canadian national team. Since returning, she has combined with senior star Emily Behncke to score all of Princeton’s six goals.
Most of the Bulldogs agreed that they had no way of knowing how potent of a Princeton squad they will see tomorrow.
“They’ve had a strong schedule, and it’s hard to say exactly how good they are,” defender Christina Huang ’07 said. “We’re going to watch tape of them tomorrow … They have great individual players. It’s hard to get a sense of how they will flow as a team.”
Last fall, the Elis, with a 5-1 record and a No. 23 ranking, went in with similarly high hopes. But after holding the Tigers scoreless through halftime, they were stunned by three unanswered second-half goals and fell, 3-0.
“We thought we were pretty good going in last year,” Huang said. “But when we played them, we didn’t know what hit us. That destroyed us, and it’s really something get off our backs.”
But Benson believes that this team will face Princeton with more confidence and experience than last year’s.
“Most of our wins last year came against easy teams,” she said. “We’re more experienced, faced more difficult situations, battled to more OT wins, played against ACC opponents.”
Meredith agreed that the teams will be more evenly matched this year.
“Last year they were the better team, but this year we’re at least equal,” he said.
While it is premature to make any lofty predictions, the Bulldogs said that a win in New Jersey would be a perfect launchpad for an Ivy League title.
“It’s too early to tell, but whoever wins this game will have a good chance to win Ivies,” Meredith said.
Huang built the game up even more.
“I think for people who’ve been here long enough, basically we know that it means everything for this season,” she said. “We’re tired of losing to them. If we’re able to beat Princeton, it will mean so much for this team. There’s lot of hype around this season already, and they’re will be a lot more hype if we take this game.”