As Master Yoda once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.”
Heeding those words, the Yale women’s soccer team went out to Dartmouth and finally did it. The fate of the galaxy might not have been affected, but this weekend got the Bulldogs’ season back on track. A convincing win on Saturday night finally gave Yale (6-5-1, 1-2 Ivy) its first conference win while leaving the Big Green (5-5-1, 0-3 Ivy) winless in its Ivy campaign.
“Going home from Harvard on the bus last week, it was like the Titanic,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “This week, it was like the Love Boat.”
The Love Boat is a great description for this weekend’s performance because Meredith went with a focus on rewarding hard work in the winning effort.
“We’re going to have two days of chocolate-covered strawberries,” forward Miyuki Hino ’12, who scored both goals in the 2-0 win and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for her efforts, said.
“Normally, I give the girls chocolate-covered strawberries for a win, but since we still hadn’t gotten a win yet, I told them that we’d have a day of chocolate-covered strawberries for every goal that we won by,” Meredith said. “Believe me, they were trying hard to get that third goal.”
The “hard work equals reward” approach dominated last week’s practices as Meredith looked for a way to inject energy into the squad. When asked about the major difference between the Dartmouth game and Yale’s two previous Ivy games, Becky Brown ’11 quickly came up with an answer: “We just worked harder.”
That hard work was clearly evident in the Bulldogs’ play as they made runs up and down the pitch, keeping the offense dynamic in order to find holes in the Dartmouth defense. It was a high-energy effort, but one that Meredith knew would pay off.
“We played 19 players today, and that’s because I told them I’d reward them for their hard work in practice,” he said. “I told them that if they worked hard in practice, they were going to get in the game.”
In incorporating the new high-energy style, Meredith also made departures in his tactics. Yale generally employs a relatively tight lineup and substitution pattern. But at Dartmouth, 19 players played in the game as part of a regular substitution pattern.
“We talked about getting energy, even if it’s only for five, ten minutes,” Meredith said. “Since we asked for more energy, we had to sub a little more.”
Perhaps the tactical change that most impacted the game was the decision to play Caitlin Collins ’10 — who is normally an attacking midfielder in the Elis’ 3-4-3 formation — as a defender in a 4-3-3 formation. As a result, Yale had one more body on defense, which gave the Big Green less room with which to work. This tactic worked to perfection as Dartmouth struggled to find good shots.
Collins is a more athletic defender who can take control of the ball, Meredith explained. With her athleticism, Collins is not only a valuable defender but also a sparkplug for igniting the offense, he said.
“[Collins] was one of our best players on the field on Saturday,” Meredith said. “We’re going to keep her there on defense — I’d be an idiot not to keep her there.”
Tactical changes and an overall boost in energy gave Yale its most complete outing thus far. For the first time in an Ivy game this year, Yale went into halftime with a lead when Hino scored in the 26th minute. The goal materialized when Maggie Westfal ’09 won the ball in Dartmouth territory and dumped it down to a streaking Brown.
“Becky [Brown] crossed the ball in, and the defender and I both stuck out our feet at the same time,” Hino said. “It managed to slide by the keeper.”
Although the goal might seem a little fluky, it was brought about by Yale’s aggressive play.
The second half was much the same as Hino once again managed to score, this time on a give-and-go with captain Emma Whitfield ’09.
“We changed a few things tactically, but really, we just played with a whole new level of energy on Saturday,” Hino said.
The weekend was also fortunate for the Bulldogs because other top Ivy teams tied rather than winning outright. Teams receive three points for a win, but only one point for a tie. The Elis were six points behind Penn, Columbia and Princeton before the weekend but are now only four points back. The Tigers and Lions will play each other next weekend, guaranteeing a drop in the standings for one of them. Therefore, the Bulldogs are in a perfect place to try and catch up to the top teams in the league — as long as the Elis win the rest of their games.
“We just have to continue trusting each other, regardless of whether we have to change our formations, lineups or substitutions,” Meredith said. “We have to do whatever it takes to win the rest of our games.”