W. soccer gets Ivy ball rolling

It may only be the first of many Harvard-Yale games in 2007-’08, but there is a lot at stake this weekend for the women’s soccer team.

The Bulldogs (4-4, 0-0 Ivy) will host the Cantabs (5-2-1, 0-0) in their Ivy opener at Reese Stadium on Saturday night. The expectations are especially high for the traditionally close rivalry matchup, as one goal has decided the outcome of the past six Harvard-Yale games and both squads are currently on at least a three-game winning streak.

“We’re expecting a really hard, close game, but one that we can definitely win,” defender Ali Giusto ’10 said.

When the two squads met in Boston last year, the Bulldogs came away with a narrow 1-0 win, with the lone goal coming from Andrea Bouchard ’10 — her only career goal. Saturday’s match promises to be just as close, as both squads have been at the top of their game recently.

The Elis have rattled off a series of wins in their last three games after struggling to find success in early matches against nationally ranked opponents. Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State University and Boston University have all tried and failed to beat the Bulldogs, who have not given up a goal since their Sept. 16 loss to No. 2 Portland, 1-0. Susie Starr ’08 and Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 have split time in the net every game, combining for 42 saves. Starr is ranked 18th in the nation with a 0.905 save percentage.

Forward Maggie Westfal ’09 has been a key contributor in the past two games, scoring both of the Elis’ goals in 1-0 wins over CCSU and BU. Defender Hannah Smith ’10 has also played a crucial role, both as part of the strong Eli defensive unit and as the team’s leader in assists.

But the Cantabs have had similar success to the Bulldogs this year, recording four straight shutouts of their own. They have a strong offense, led by freshman forward Katherine Sheeleigh. Sheeleigh boasts a team-leading five goals and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week this week after scoring three goals in the Cantabs’ trouncing of New Hampshire.

“Teams like Harvard are a little bit better than us offensively,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “They seem to be able to put the ball in the back of the net. They have been dangerous the last couple of games.”

The Bulldogs have done some tweaking in the past week to prepare for the game. On Tuesday against BU, that revamping included tapping defender Jacqueline Gantes ’10 to start for the first time this season. The move allowed defender Hayley Zevenbergen ’09 to play a more offensive role in the first half, although she returned to her regular position at the start of the second period. Since then, the Bulldogs have been making other small adjustments in anticipation of the upcoming match.

The energy could not be higher among the Bulldogs for the start of Ivy League play. After finishing fourth in the Ivy League last year (the Cantabs finished sixth) — a somewhat-disappointing result following 2005’s Ivy League Championship — the squad hopes to return to the top in 2007. The Elis have been thinking about that challenge for the past month as they faced non-conference opponents.

“The Ivy League is just a whole different feel,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “It’s a whole different game. There are no easy games in the Ivy League.”

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