Anyone expecting a soft, comfortable transition into the regular season would have been sorely disappointed at Johnson Field Wednesday afternoon. It took all of one game for women’s lacrosse to push deep past regulation into their first double overtime of the year, and an especially gritty effort was just enough to knock off UConn in a frigid opener.
The Elis (1-0) blew a four-goal halftime lead against a pesky Huskies (0-1) squad, and headed into extra frames with the score knotted at five. But the home team outbattled their fellow Nutmeg State foes in an overtime defensive showdown that ended in a 6-5 final.
“We played well for our first game, especially during the first 15 minutes, before we had that lapse,” captain Sarah Scalia ’06 said. “Overall, we played with a lot of enthusiasm, which I think is the most important thing.”
After warming up to a few choice country and western selections over the PA system, an Elis squad with a decidedly younger look than in years past barged onto the turf to make its 2006 debut. Two freshmen, midfielder Taylor Fragapane ’09 and defender Jenn Warden ’09, headlined a group of first-year Elis who needed little time to take center stage.
Moments into the matchup, the difference between the two teams’ offensive styles became clear. UConn commanded a slow-paced game during its initial possessions, crowding in a semicircle around the net and relaying short, controlled passes. Yale, on the other hand, came out with its trademark speedy play, often isolating star attacker Lauren Taylor ’08 for dashes to the net.
“If there’s one consistent player, it’s Lauren,” Yale head coach Mandee O’Leary said. “We always want the ball in her hands. We ask a lot of her and she delivers.”
The Elis would be the first to break through. Midfielder Lara Melniker ’07, a potent force off the bench for much last year, kicked off her inaugural day as a full-time starter when she beat Husky goalie Kristen Haldeman at 23:30. The offense came quick and steady after the first goal, with Fragapane adding one and Taylor a pair of free position shots during the next 10 minutes to rack up a 4-0 advantage. UConn got one goal back before Melniker added her second contribution of the day with less than eight minutes to play before halftime.
But the Huskies would not submit quietly. With less than 13 minutes to go in regulation, the visitors opened fire on the home net, and when the dust cleared, a 5-1 deficit had suddenly become a 5-5 tie.
Taylor said that while the quick shift in momentum was pronounced, it was not surprising for such an inexperienced Yale squad.
“We should have been more prepared for that,” she said. “It’s a sign of our youth that we weren’t prepared.”
Team members blamed the lost lead on a sluggish second-half offense, noting that the backfield had put on an impressive show.
“I think that the defense put in a great effort, especially in the second half,” midfielder Lindsay Levin ’07 said. “I think that about two-thirds of the game was played in the defensive end. We were getting the ball out on D but we weren’t executing on offense.”
The first overtime was uneventful, with Yale goalie Ellen Cameron ’08 stopping the sole potential game-winner from the Huskies. After starting seven games last year, Cameron made quite an impression in her first 2006 appearance.
“Ellen Cameron had some point-blank saves and her clears were dead-on. I thought she did a tremendous job,” O’Leary said.
The Bulldogs looked well on their way to a third overtime, but their reliable star delivered once more for the hat trick. Taylor bested Haldeman unassisted with 33 seconds left in double overtime, and after Fragapane won the final draw, the Huskies were history.
O’Leary could not fault her team’s opening day jitters, and came away with much praise for the young group.
“I like what I’m seeing. What we showed out there is something you can’t teach — heart,” she said. “They got the job done. A win’s a win, no matter how ugly it is.”
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