NCAA Tourney now a possibility

This year’s senior night is about more than just looking back on the careers of the women’s soccer players in the Class of 2008 — it is also an opportunity for the squad to move into the postseason.

The Elis (9-6, 3-2 Ivy) caught a lucky break last week when Brown (6-8-1, 3-2) topped league leader Penn (11-3-1, 4-1) in a 1-0 overtime thriller, which kept the Bulldogs in the hunt for a bid to the NCAA Tournament and possibly for a share of the Ivy League title. But news of the Bears’ victory was also bittersweet for the Elis, as they now have to face the squad that felled the highly-touted Quakers.

women's soccer against Cornell, Oct. 13
Charles Francis
women's soccer against Cornell, Oct. 13

“If Brown pulled that off, they’re a very good team,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “They’re always a team that gets very good at the end of the season. We’re definitely not overlooking them in any way.”

When the two squads met in Providence, R.I., last year, the Bulldogs pulled off a come-from-behind 4-2 win to end their season on a high note. At that point in the season, the Elis were out of the running for the Ivy League title and the NCAA tournament.

But this time around, both Yale and Brown have 3-2 conference records — and whichever squad wins this weekend should move into second place in the Ancient Eight, within striking distance of the frontrunner going into the final weekend of Ivy League play.

Brown may be in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category, but what the numbers do not show is the Bears’ trend of improvement over the past few games.

Sophomore goalie Steffi Yellin — who has been named Ivy League Player of the Week twice in the last three weeks — has played a major role in the Brown turnaround, recording two shutouts in the past week and six this season alone. She has a lower overall save percentage than Yale netminder Susie Starr ’08, but in league games she has proven herself to be a top goalie and has a .861 save percentage against Ancient Eight foes.

Yellin will certainly challenge the Eli attackers, although they, too, have shown significant improvement in recent games. Forwards Maggie Westfal ’09 and Becky Brown ’11 each scored twice last weekend to lift the Bulldogs over Columbia and New Hampshire. Both players are in the top 10 for points and goals in the Ancient Eight, and Brown was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after last weekend’s performance.

“We’ve gotten better at combining the offensive and defensive talent recently — our offense and defense are doing well at the same time,” Kuder said. “And offense is definitely getting the goals now.”

Head coach Rudy Meredith said he was pleased with the way the Bulldogs handled the tough schedule last weekend — two games in 24 hours — especially with the injuries that have recently plagued the Eli roster.

But those injuries have also allowed the squad to dip into its bench more and develop some of the younger and less experienced players on the team, Westfal said.

“People who hadn’t been playing as much at the beginning of the season have really stepped up big for us and filled roles that they hadn’t been in before,” she said. “Anyone on the field is going to make a positive contribution. It’s great knowing that we have a very strong bench.”

Yale, Harvard and Brown currently share a three-way tie for third place in the Ivy League, close on the heels of frontrunners Penn and Princeton, which have both compiled 4-1 records to this point. The Tigers and the Quakers will go head to head this weekend in Philadelphia.

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