The women’s soccer game was no exception in a weekend of down-to-the-wire matches against the University of Pennsylvania.
The Elis (7-6, 2-2 Ivy) dropped a close game to league-leader Penn (10-2-1, 4-0) on Saturday afternoon in their first Ivy League away game. After falling behind early in the first half, the Bulldogs could not overcome the two-goal deficit, succumbing to the Quakers 2-1 in front of a homecoming crowd in Philadelphia.
“We came out a little bit flat in the first half,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “But towards the end of the second half, we picked it up. We have to give ourselves credit for that.”
The Elis got off to a sluggish start, managing just one shot on goal in the first half, compared to Penn’s six. Quaker forward Jessica Fuccello — who leads the Ivy League in points — scored at 8:14, knocking a header into the top left corner of the net. Twenty minutes later, freshman teammate Marisa Schoen made it 2-0 after recovering a deflected Fuccello shot. Yale’s lone chance of the period had come just 45 seconds earlier, when midfielder Natalia Mann ’09 attempted to score off a header, but shot wide.
The Bulldogs picked up the pace after the break, outshooting the Quakers 3-1. Mann closed the gap to one goal with a penalty kick at 78:28, but that was the last shot of the game for either team. After the Eli goal, the Quaker defense responded with some of their earlier intensity and stopped the Bulldogs from completing a comeback.
“Penn played a really good game,” defender Hannah Smith ’10 said. “We weren’t ready for their intensity in the first half. We changed our formation in the second half, which played more to our strengths, and we were able to get the ball forward a lot more.”
Captain Mary Kuder ’08 said the Bulldogs were expecting a tough match, as they had tied Penn twice in the last two years and the Quakers had been playing particularly well this season. Penn took sole possession of first place in the Ancient Eight with the win, as Princeton – with whom they had shared the top spot – dropped a 4-2 decision to Harvard. Their 4-0 start is the school’s best conference start ever, and they are currently favored to win the title for only the second time in the program history.
“It’s the best Penn team I’ve ever seen, no question,” Meredith said. “Their work ethic was very good, their attack was very good and they defended us well.”
Goalie Susie Starr ’08 — who entered the game with the leading save percentage in the nation — finished with two saves. The fact that the Quakers were able to score two goals on Starr, who had not given up a goal since Sept. 9 against then-No. 6 North Carolina, was a testament to the strength of the Penn attack.
With Saturday’s loss, Yale’s chances for an Ivy League title appear all but gone. The Quakers hold a two-game advantage over the Elis, making it impossible for Yale to close the gap unless Penn falters. The Bulldogs could still earn a share of an Ivy League championship if they finish undefeated and the Quakers lose twice.
The Elis have two opportunities to rebound next weekend. On Friday, they face 2006 Ivy League champion Columbia in New York, before they return to New Haven to host New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon.
“Penn came out as the stronger team Saturday and they deserved to win, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to roll over and give up in the Ivy League,” Smith said. “We still want to win out.”