PRINCETON, N.J. — As the digital clock behind the Tiger net clicked off its final second, the faces of the Eli women’s soccer players rushing the field — some in disbelief, others with tears streaming down their cheeks — may have signaled the beginning of a new era in Ivy women’s soccer.
In an absolutely riveting Saturday night matchup in the Garden State, the Bulldogs (7-2, 1-0 Ivy) held off a fierce Princeton (1-4-2, 0-1 Ivy) onslaught late in the second half to triumph over the Tigers. With a potent combination of new freshman talent, spectacular goalkeeping, some lucky breaks and a dauntless pack of seniors who would do anything to win at least one against Princeton before graduation, the Elis did what no Yale squad has done since 2001.
The 2-1 victory is Yale’s seventh straight win and may have triggered the advent of a changing of the guard in the Princeton-dominated world of Ivy League women’s soccer. The Tigers won the Ivy League and advanced to the NCAA Final Four last season.
“This is the first time I’ve ever cried for being happy,” defenseman Christina Huang ’07 said, still welled up 10 minutes after the last whistle. “My sophomore year they schooled us and it was just so disheartening. But Rudy has developed this program so well into a team that can finally beat Princeton.”
The win was far from a sure thing, especially in the minutes before the half. The Tigers kept the pressure on around the Yale net, outshooting the Bulldogs five to two. The Elis could only muster a few scoring chances late in the half, but the play was generally concentrated on the wrong side of midfield.
“They were keeping us blocked in in the first half,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “It was only after halftime that we were able to open the defense up and spring up our speed, which allowed us to get some more offense.”
From the beginning of the second half, the momentum seemed a bit more balanced. The Bulldogs began to make Tiger goalie Maren Dale work with a few breakaways, and the speed of the Yale front paid off at 52:27.
On the play, forward Jamie Ortega ’06 nearly collided with Dale, who had darted off her line to meet Ortega at the top of the box. Ortega, however, was able to cross the ball to Mimi Macauley ’07, who tapped it into the untended net.
“By the time Jamie came in and passed the ball to me, we basically had an open net,” Macauley said. “I was thrilled. If I could only get one goal at Yale it would be that one.”
The second and eventual game-winning goal was proof that the Elis may have had luck on their side Saturday night. Dale tried to clear an Emma Whitfield ’09 cross out of the box, but it deflected off a Princeton defender and back into the net at 63:42.
While Yale’s confidence was high with the 2-0 lead with under 25 minutes to go, the challenge was just beginning for Eli goalie Susan Starr ’08.
Her four saves were nothing short of spectacular, even though Princeton scored off her leaping deflection in the 71st minute.
With the home crowd riled up on account of the goal and a second apparent goal that was deemed offside, the Eli starters rose to the challenge, playing their most physical game yet in the closing ten minutes.
The celebration erupted in front of the Yale bench as time expired, with the players embracing each other then heading over to meet the legion of parents waiting across the field.
In the midst of the joy, the thoughts of many turned to the Class of 2006. The current seniors had been 0-3 in their first attempts against the Princetonians, and nobody on the team was going to allow them to lose their fourth.
“Before the game, we all listed our goals, both personal and for the team,” captain Eleni Benson ’06 said. “So many of the undergraduates said they wanted to win it for the seniors, and that was so meaningful for all of us.
Despite the momentous implications of the evening, most of the team was hesitant to go as far to say that this was the beginning of a new era in Ancient Eight soccer.
Meredith said that the victory gives the team more breathing room as they head deeper into the Ivy League season.
“If we have a bad day over the next few weeks, at least we have a cushion,” Meredith said. “Last year we lost to Princeton right off the bat and had no cushion at all.”
Still, as the squad heads back to Connecticut to face Fairfield tomorrow night, there was an undeniable buzz around the team bus before it headed back to the Elm City.
“I’m so glad we finally did it with this team, ” Benson said. “This is the best squad since I’ve been here.”