W. soccer avenges ’06 Columbia loss

Even the rain couldn’t spoil things for the women’s soccer team this weekend.

The Bulldogs (9-6, 3-2 Ivy) battled injuries and bad weather to record back-to-back wins against Columbia (6-5-4, 1-3-1) and New Hampshire (10-6-2) Friday and Saturday nights. The squad has now won eight of its last 10 games and looks strong heading into its final two weekends of regular season play.

“After we beat both teams, we realized that it’s still possible for us to win a championship,” forward Maggie Westfal ’09 said. “It brought up the overall morale on the team a lot.”

In an impressive effort, the Bulldogs exacted revenge on defending 2006 Ivy League champions Columbia on Friday night, after having suffered a devastating 2-1 loss to the Lions at home last year. Two players who did the bulk of the Elis’ scoring early on this season — leading scorer Westfal and forward Becky Brown ’11 — stepped up again to help the squad secure a 2-1 victory on a rainy night in New York City.

Westfal opened the scoring at 27:20, when she took a feed from Emma Whitfield ’09 and beat her defender one-on-one to slip the ball into the goal. Brown made it 2-0 just three minutes into the second half, grabbing the rebound off a Leslie Perez ’10 shot and burying it in the back of the net.

Although the Lions stopped the Bulldogs from recording their fifth shutout of the season with a goal in the 82nd minute, they could not muster enough offense to tie things up. When the final whistle blew, the Bulldogs walked away with a 2-1 victory, an outcome that keeps them afloat in the race for the Ivy League title.

“Beating Columbia was a big deal,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “For some reason they’re usually a team that we have a mental block against, even if our talent is better.”

The next night, Brown and Westfal helped lead the team to a 2-1 victory over New Hampshire. Despite the close score, the Bulldogs dominated for most of the game, outshooting the Wildcats 22-8 and controlling the ball for the majority of the game.

Brown scored late in the opening half, capitalizing on UNH goalie Nikki Golding’s fumbling of the ball after a shot by defender Ali Giusto ’10. Brown corralled the ball and knocked it into the empty net to give the Elis a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

But the Wildcats tied things up after the break, knocking in a hard shot that was out of the reach of goalkeeper Susie Starr ’08 in the 55th minute. The Bulldogs continued to apply pressure on offense, however, and Kuder found Westfal with a long pass that she was able to convert into a goal at 69:10.

Head coach Rudy Meredith said he was pleased with the way the team responded to the challenge of playing two games in such a short period of time.

Since the Wildcats are the top team in the America East conference, this weekend’s victory could help the Bulldogs if they find themselves in the running for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in a few weeks. Thirty of the tournament’s 64 spots are reserved for conference champions, and a committee selects the remaining 34 participants as at-large bids.

The Bulldogs host Brown (6-8-1, 3-2) next Saturday in their final homestand of the season. The Bears topped league-leader Penn (11-3-1, 4-1) 1-0 in an overtime thriller yesterday, a result that means that the Elis still have a shot at the Ivy League title but also indicates the strength of the Brown squad.

Yale is now caught in a three-way tie for third place in the Ancient Eight with Harvard and Brown.

“We need to focus on what we need to do as a team,” Westfal said. “We know that if we play the game that we are capable of playing, we can beat anyone.”

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