The passes were just a little more crisp, the sprinting just a little more brisk, the tackles just a little more relentless. In perhaps the pivotal night of the 28-year-old women’s soccer program at Yale, the Elis rose to the occasion like never before to nail down the first outright Ivy League Championship in Yale history.
The 2005 Bulldogs (13-3-1, 5-1-1 Ivy) had already downed Princeton, slipped past Harvard and edged out Dartmouth, but the successes of weeks past would have been meaningless if they could not handle 12-time league champion Brown (5-10-2, 1-4-2) Saturday night at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium. Fortunately for the 28 players and over 1,400 fans, the team delivered the clutch performance of the season, winning 3-0 against a determined Bears squad.
The Elis blasted out to a two-goal first half advantage on the successful attempts of team scoring leader and midfielder Crysti Howser ’09 and forward Mimi Macauley ’07. In a year in which freshmen became the offensive backbone of the team, midfielder Emma Whitfield ’09 fittingly put the finishing touches on the shutout with her sixth goal of the season just seconds after the halftime break.
The near-capacity crowd rose to its feet with a minute left on the clock and counted the seconds before the Yale bench erupted in celebration at midfield with the final buzzer. Captain Eleni Benson ’06 cradled the gold Ivy League Championship trophy minutes later, solid evidence of a year of hard work and a landmark for a school that had waited nearly three decades for this moment.
Senior Laurel Karnes ’06 said she could not have imagined a better way to end her Ivy career.
“This is so huge,” she said. “We all just went out there so pumped up, just had a lot of fun, and though we couldn’t say it before, we knew we could beat these guys.”
This historic game took place on a night when the mist was dense and the players could see their breath, but the Bulldogs did not let the cold bother them. The Elis also did not let the cold night stop them from dumping a bucket of water all over unsuspecting Yale head coach Rudy Meredith seconds after the on-field celebration began. But Meredith, who nailed down his first Ancient Eight ring in his 10 years at Yale with Saturday’s win, did not mind. He said he was ecstatic about his team’s efforts in finally reaching this milestone.
“It was amazing, just impossible to put it into words,” he said. “We worked so hard from the start, had a whole lot of ups and downs, and to just finally do it feels so great.”
Though Yale looked to a pair of freshmen and a junior to provide the offensive clout Saturday, the affair was all about the Class of 2006. The seniors were first honored before the game with an on-field ceremony and received a rousing ovation when seven of eight team members came into the game with 17 minutes left to go.
The only senior who did not sub in at that time was Jamie Ortega ’06, who was sidelined with an ankle injury two weeks ago. Despite starting every game of her Yale career, she assumed she was done for the season. But the crowd was whipped into a frenzy when Ortega came to the sidelines with less than six minutes left to play. Though she was clearly hobbled, Ortega was grateful for her chance to take the field one last time in front of the home faithful.
“When I warmed up, I felt good; I just couldn’t kick the ball,” Ortega said. “I’m so glad I got any time to play, and it’s an incredibly good feeling to win this.”
The definitive 3-0 final was the product of a very solid offensive effort. Howser fed Macauley a long pass right in front of the Bears’ net, and the junior directed it past Cornell goalie Hilary Wilson at 12:56 to grab the early 1-0 lead. The second goal was a group effort at 35:17. Defender Hayley Zevenbergen ’09 passed to Karnes, who set up the ball perfectly in front of the right corner of the net for Howser to swoop in for the goal. Though the Bulldogs had another goal left in them at this point, Karnes said she felt pretty confident at 2-0.
“All of our losses happened when we only scored once,” she said. “It was really after we got the second goal that we knew we had this one.”
The 1,448 fans had barely settled in after halftime when Whitfield took a Maggie Westfal ’09 cross and turned it into the third goal of the night at 46:35.
The Bears kept up with the Bulldogs in an increasingly physical second half. Karnes said although the match became more aggressive toward the end, the Brown squad was for the most part congratulatory toward the new champions after the game.
Goalkeeper Chloe Beizer ’07 played the whole game and finished with two saves. Fellow goalie Susan Starr ’08, who normally splits time with Beizer, sat out with a pulled hamstring.
Meredith said that it was fitting that the Elis played their most fundamentally sound game in the title-clincher.
“We knew what we had to do,” he said. “It was the seniors’ last home game, and to go out on the field and win with three goals was great.”
Though its preseason goal has been accomplished, the magic may just be beginning for this 2005 squad. With the league ring comes an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, and the Bulldogs will find out today where they will head next in their new quest toward the national title game.