An offensive surge in the second half helped the women’s soccer team sail past Bucknell in their season opener last Friday.
The Bulldogs (1-0) — who have six straight winning seasons behind them — handily defeated the Bison (1-1), 3-1, finding a victory in their opening game for the first time since 2004. Although the Elis made their fair share of errors on the road to the win, the final outcome suggests that the squad has potential to do some serious damage to its opponents this season.
“It was a typical first game — we had some jitters. We were good in spurts,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “There were some good things and there were some bad things, but the bottom line was that we got the W. It was a good win against a quality opponent.”
After going into halftime tied, 0-0, the Elis finally got on the scoreboard at 59:41. Off a throw-in from defender Hannah Smith ’10, forward Maggie Westfal ’09 sent the ball sailing over the goalie’s head from 35 yards out to put Yale ahead, 1-0. Just over a minute later, rookie forward Becky Brown ’11 deftly left-footed the ball into the corner of the net, this time off a cross from Smith at the right side of the goal.
Midfielder Natalia Mann ’09 helped add to the Bulldogs’ lead at 73:18, when she found fellow midfielder Leslie Perez ’10 with a long pass. Perez carried the ball up the field, deked Bucknell goalie Kathryn Sutton and easily deposited the ball in the empty net. The Bison answered back a few minutes later, scoring on a direct kick, but their lone goal did nothing more than spoil what would have been the first Eli shutout since last September.
“I thought throughout the game we just improved and we connected better overall,” goalie Susan Starr ’08 said. “We have been coming together really well so far.”
The Bulldog offense certainly gelled as the game progressed, as the squad recovered from a scoreless first half riddled with offsides penalties, Meredith said. The Elis converted three chances within a 15-minute span and had several other quality shots on goal in the second period.
“We worked very hard and created a lot of opportunities on offense,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “In future games, we’ll hopefully be able to finish more of those opportunities.”
And although the squad struggled at times, particularly with several defensive breakdowns late in the game, identifying and correcting for those errors is a crucial aspect of the early part of this season.
“[We need to work on] playing a little quicker and getting more shots on goal,” Starr said. “Communicating on defense is also important, but overall we had a really strong defense.”
The game was also a good test of the strength of the Bulldogs’ roster, as Meredith was able to play every member of the squad, including all six freshmen. Rookies Brown and Kate Macauley ’11 both debuted as starters, while Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 relieved Starr in the second half and made two saves.
The contributions of these players may become integral to the Elis’ success as they stare down a tough schedule that features several ranked teams early in the season. This weekend the squad will travel to North Carolina to play Duke and No. 6 UNC in the Carolina Nike Classic. The road trip will provide the Bulldogs with experience against two highly skilled opponents and could indicate the squad’s potential to make an appearance in post-season play.
“We looked pretty good [Friday], but Bucknell isn’t the most challenging team,” Kuder said. “We still have yet to see what we can do against a really solid team, which we’ll get to test this weekend.”