With their destiny out of their hands, the women’s soccer team had no choice but to take care of business yesterday and hope things work out favorably.
As the chase for the Ivy League title comes down to the wire, Yale’s (10-6, 4-2 Ivy) hopes remain afloat after a 3-1 win over conference rival Brown (6-9-1, 3-3) on Senior Day. Although Penn clinched a share of the title this weekend with a win over Princeton, the Bulldogs moved into second place in the Ancient Eight yesterday. They still have a chance to share the crown if they beat the Tigers next weekend and the Quakers lose to Harvard.
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“Now we really are playing with confidence,” goalkeeper Susie Starr ’08 said. “We’re hitting our stride right now, and there’s no better time since we have a chance to win Ivies.”
The opening half of the match was characterized by a back-and-forth battle between the two squads. The Bears broke through first at 23:41, when forward Bridget Ballard headed the ball into the back of the net off a cross from teammate Lindsay Cunningham. But the Elis responded at 26:08 with a goal from forward Maggie Westfal ’09, the Elis’ leading goal scorer so far this season. Westfal took a pass from forward Leslie Perez ’10 and converted it just inside the box.
Forward Becky Brown ’11 snapped the tie in the 59th minute, finding the back of the net off a cross from forward Caitlin Collins ’10. And defender Hannah Smith ’10 got the insurance goal at 76:46, giving the Elis a 3-1 lead. Smith got the ball during a scramble in front of the goal and snuck it past Brown goaltender Steffi Yellin, who had not allowed a goal since October 16. Starr came up with four saves in the busy second half to keep the Bears scoreless.
“Everybody was really composed and played their positions well,” forward Emma Whitfield ’09 said. “We finished when we needed to finish.”
By beating the Bears — who topped frontrunner Penn in a 1-0 overtime thriller last weekend — the Bulldogs maintain the possibility of a sharing the Ivy title with the Quakers, an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament or both.
The Quakers clinched a share of the Ivy League title on Saturday night with a dramatic 1-0 overtime victory over rival Princeton, who had shared the top spot with them. But if Penn loses to Harvard next weekend, it will allow the winner of the Yale-Princeton game to claim a piece of the title as well.
Although the Quakers will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament even in the case of a shared Ancient Eight title, the Bulldogs still have a shot at an at-large berth. The strength of the squad’s schedule — which featured several of the top teams in the nation early in the season — and their recent victory over America East conference champion New Hampshire should keep the Elis in the running for one of 34 at-large spots in the tournament.
“We practiced really hard this past week because we knew how important this game was for us to win,” defender Jacqueline Gantes ’10 said. “I think our preparation was a really important factor in beating Brown. Now we are definitely in contention to be Ivy League co-champions and get a bid to the tournament if things go our way.”
Yesterday’s game was also the final game at Reese Stadium for the squad’s two seniors, captain Mary Kuder ’08 and Starr. Both players have had notable careers in Bulldog blue and have played a major role in this season’s success in particular. Kuder has anchored the Eli defense that has recorded four shutouts so far, and Starr has made her presence felt between the posts, leading the nation in save percentage for several weeks in October.
“It’s going to be tough leaving these girls behind,” Starr said. “We’re peaking as a team right now and it’s going to be really sad to leave them, but at the same time we know that they’re going to do really well in the next few years.”
The Bulldogs are on the road for their final game of the regular season, when they face Princeton next Sunday afternoon.