The prize for beating Brown last weekend was a Halloween-themed practice. If the women’s soccer team wins this weekend, there is a much bigger prize on the line — a potential Ivy League title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Yale (10-6-0, 4-2 Ivy) will travel to Princeton (8-7-1, 4-2) on Sunday in the hope of securing at least a second-place finish in the Ancient Eight. And if Penn — the current league frontrunner — loses this weekend, the Elis could steal a piece of the crown and possibly garner one of the 34 at-large bids to the NCAA College Cup.
“It’s going to be a really exciting game,” forward Emma Whitfield ’09 said. “We have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain.”
The Bulldogs and the Tigers are currently tied in second place in the Ivy League with identical 4-2 records. Although the Quakers already clinched at least a share of the Ancient Eight title with a 1-0 overtime victory over Princeton last weekend, the winner of the Yale-Princeton game could sneak into a tie for first place if Penn loses to Harvard on Saturday night.
In a rare role reversal, the Elis will be cheering for a Crimson victory. Although Penn is guaranteed the automatic Ivy League bid because they beat both Yale and Princeton this season, the Bulldogs still have a shot at one of the open spots. The biggest credential the Elis on their side is the strength of their schedule, which included several NCAA championship contenders early on, head coach Rudy Meredith said. The Bulldogs also edged out America East conference winner New Hampshire two weeks ago, which should help their standings.
But in order to make a trip to the tournament a possibility, the Bulldogs have to first overcome one of the toughest league opponents they will face this year, players said. Princeton is a well-rounded team that has been in contention to finish among the upper ranks of the Ancient Eight for the entire season.
“They are kind of like us — they like to pass, they like to find open players,” goalkeeper Susie Starr ’08 said. “They are also very tough. We’re really going to have to play like we have the past couple of games to beat them.”
The Tigers’ main offensive threat is senior midfielder Diana Matheson, the squad’s co-captain for the second year in a row. The Ontario native leads Princeton in goals and points for the second straight season and is a member of the Canadian National Team.
Between the posts, the Tigers also boast senior goaltender Maren Dale, who has played nearly every minute in goal this season and has 1.23 goals against average.
But the Bulldogs also seem to be peaking right now. They are currently riding a three-game winning streak — their last loss came to the highly-touted Quakers on Oct. 20 — and have put up a fight in every league contest this season. Both of their Ancient Eight losses came by one-goal decisions, and they have outscored their conference opponents 13-6 this season. Since they dropped their first Ivy League game to Dartmouth on Oct. 6, the Elis have taken their intensity to a whole new level, and players said the team is playing its best soccer of the season right now.
“Once we were put under pressure [after the first league loss], everyone responded well,” Whitfield said. “Practices got a lot more difficult and everybody stepped up their level of play.”