When Yale midfielder Taylor Fragapane ’09 scored to give the Elis a 6-5 lead minutes into the second half Saturday, she put the women’s lacrosse team in its best position to win at No. 8 Princeton since a similar April afternoon a few years back.
April 1986, to be exact, a mere eight months before the freshman standout was born.
Long victims to one-sided Tigers (6-4, 3-0 Ivy) steamrollings, the Bulldogs (6-6, 1-3) came out of the gate zealously during a heavy downpour and were primed to end a two-decade drought in the Garden State. But the storied Ancient Eight machine kicked into gear midway into the second, capitalizing on Yale turnovers to nab the painstakingly close 8-7 decision and bumping the Elis out of Ivy title contention.
The loss may be a lethal blow for the Bulldogs’ 2006 campaign, but it still marks a decisive and heartening swing from Princeton games of years past. Besides a shocking Elm City upset in 2003 — Yale’s only win at either venue in the last 15 meetings — scores like the 11-5 final last year were the norm in this lopsided rivalry.
Middie Jenn Warden ’09 said the attitude heading into the matchup was hardly fatalistic, despite the recent history of the two teams.
“By going down there a day early, we got our heads into it,” she said. “We took the field at full force, because we knew we could make no mistakes like against Penn. It mirrored the Dartmouth game, since Princeton was able to stay with us, but we maintained the lead through the first.”
Captain Sarah Scalia ’06 nabbed a turnover three minutes after the opening whistle and dumped it to Kat Peetz ’08, who in turn deposited the ball past Princeton goalie Meg Murray for the opening score. The two squads would alternate goals throughout the first half, and it quickly became clear that the Elis had channeled the unyielding defensive form that had brought them to such heights against then-No. 13 Dartmouth two weeks ago.
A newfound skill also worked its way into the Bulldogs’ repertoire from the first whistle as they obliterated the Tigers on draw control. At halftime, Yale held a seven to three advantage and went on to win all seven second half draws over Princeton to put up an overall 14-3 edge.
“Considering how they’ve dominated their opposition, we were surprised at how well we did on draws,” Scalia said. “We haven’t been especially good, but going into the game, we knew we needed to get draw controls to have any chance. And we did, and that’s why this loss is so frustrating.”
The game looked destined to be tied at four heading into the break, but Warden nabbed the final draw control of the period and set up a Meredith Callahan ’08 goal with 0:02 left in the half. While the Elis by no means stunned the Tigers with their first half performance, several team members remarked on their dynamic start as strongly differing from Princeton’s early conservative approach. But Yale head coach Amanda O’Leary warned her squad that a Tiger strike would be inevitable at some point in the second half.
“In the first half, they were waiting to see what we would throw at them, and weren’t coming at us with same kind of gusto as we were at them,” Warden said. “We threw some things they weren’t really expecting. They kept their eyes primarily on Kat and Lauren [Taylor ’08], so we were able to pull out some stuff they weren’t prepared for.”
Princeton did come out with the quick drive off a Yale turnover seconds after halftime, and Princeton team scoring leader Kathleen Miller directed her seventeenth goal of the season past Ellen Cameron ’08 just over a minute in. Fragapane responded with her eighth goal of the year three minutes later off a free position shot, staking the Bulldogs to their final lead of the game.
But turnovers continued to rear their head, stymieing Yale drives prematurely in their end of the field. These errors would amount to a final ugly tally that left the Bulldogs with almost double the number of Tiger turnovers at 25-13.
Princeton put up two quick goals to take the 7-6 lead, but Peetz became the only Bulldog with multiple goals when she tied the game with 15:20 to go. A turnover of the most unsightly kind — with goalie Cameron stripped behind her own net — brought the Yale demise just over a minute later.
Tigers’ Olachi Opara scored what became the decisive goal with 13:31 left in the game, and the remaining back-and-forth would not produce any more scoring in the torrential downpour.
With the final whistle, the illusions of an Ancient Eight title, initially brought on by the upset at Dartmouth, came crashing down. But it was hard for the Elis to stay mad for very long.
“We really did play well, we maintained our positions and we held them to eight goals after a few years of blowouts,” Scalia said. “This is a plus for our confidence, knowing how well we can play and going back and forth, and we’ll take it with us into Brown and Cornell.”
The surprising performance was also encouraging for an underclassmen-heavy squad that has seen its talent develop over the past few months. Next up for the 6-6 Elis is Columbia this Wednesday, but training for the team’s next pivotal showdown with the vaunted Tigers begins on the practice fields this afternoon.
“This is a huge boost, though some people are upset now, and this game says a lot about the direction of the Yale program,” Taylor said. “Thankfully a large contingent of team will be here over the next few years, and this game changes the dynamic, definitely for the positive, in years to come.”