PHILADELPHIA — Everything fell into place at once.
At least, that’s what seemed to happen Saturday afternoon, when the Yale women’s soccer team defeated Penn (8-4–2, 2–3 Ivy) 2–1 on a rain-soaked pitch in Philadelphia and Princeton simultaneously grabbed a late-game 1–0 win over Harvard on the Crimson’s home turf.
The combined Eli win and Crimson loss propelled the Bulldogs (9–5–0, 4–1) back into competition for the league title. The archrivals are now tied for first place in the Ancient Eight standings with identical 4–1 conference records.
“We found out [about Harvard] at halftime of our game, so we actually could not hold back our excitement,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “We had to realize that we were not done with our game yet.”
And things were looking good for Yale with just the second period left to play (aside from the relentless rain), as the team had taken a 1–0 lead in the 22nd minute.
Back at the start of the game, Penn opened up play quickly. The Quakers — who boast, statistically, the best offense in the conference and have the league’s top attacker in Jessica Fuccello — got off two shots in the first six minutes, but goalkeeper Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13 stopped both.
The saves were two of four that Jackson-Gibson made in the first half alone. It was her first start of the season in goal for the Elis.
“It was actually probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make all season,” Meredith said of choosing to start Jackson-Gibson over Ayana Sumiyasu ’11. “Sometimes you go with experience; sometimes you go with technique. Today I made a decision based on athleticism.”
Jackson-Gibson’s athleticism shone through amidst the messy conditions, continually making aggressive saves before Penn could capitalize.
“Her jumping ability is out of this world — she’s the fastest kid on the team,” Meredith said. “I figured we would have to make more athletic type saves today because of the weather.”
It didn’t take long for Yale to respond to Penn’s attacks.
Forward Becky Brown ’11 made the Elis first drive when she controlled a pass from midfielder Kate Macauley ’11 and dribbled around a Penn defender before curving a shot just over the upper left corner of goal.
But Brown had another chance at 21:01 – and she made this one count. Brown received a feed from forward Kristen Forster ’13 and outraced the Quaker defenders, sliding a ground shot past goalkeeper Gina Winters into the bottom left corner of net.
It was Brown’s team-leading 12th goal of the season.
The 1–0 Yale lead seemed to inspire Penn’s attackers to increase their pressure. In the 26th minute, the Quakers came close to scoring on a corner kick but Jackson-Gibson leaped out of her goal to bat the ball away.
At 30:26, Jackson-Gibson blocked a hard shot on a breakaway and then scrambled on top of the ball before an oncoming Quaker could get the rebound.
The Elis almost made their lead 2–0 as the half counted down. Forward Mary Kubiuk ’13 crossed the ball to Brown, who took a one-touch shot before Penn defenders could react, but the ball was slowed by the muddy field and Winters made the save.
The half closed with the Quakers outshooting the Bulldogs 7–4, but still down 1–0.
And that’s when Yale found out about Harvard.
Captain and defender Sophia Merrifield ’10 said the team screamed and hugged when they heard the news.
“It just fueled us to do better in the second half,” Merrifield said.
Even the steadily worsening weather could not dampen the Bulldogs’ spirits in the second half. But the nearly blinding rain made play more difficult for both teams — and especially for the goalies.
“Not only was the ball slippery, but the second half the wind was in my face, the rain was in my eyes,” Jackson-Gibson said. “I couldn’t see sometimes, the ball was skipping fast and it was very hard to read.”
Yale grabbed possession for the start of the period, tallying five shots before the 60-minute mark.
Midfielder Kate Macauley had two scoring chances in the 59th minute, when she settled and shot the ball from inside the 18-yard box twice within an eight-second window.
Penn nearly scored moments later, but a player was called offsides.
And then in the 69th minute, Yale struck again. This time Forster was there, settling a throw in by Kubiuk that was flicked in front and beating the defenders and goalkeeper to score the Elis’ second goal.
Merrifield admitted she was glad Forster was able to get the shot off, noting the field was like a bathtub by that point.
“There were just big deep puddles that would slow the ball at inopportune times and it was really hard to play the ball in the air because it was so wet,” Merrifield said. “It took like five minutes for Kristen to get it out of a puddle in front of the goal.”
Down 2–0, Penn took another hit seconds later when Fuccello was issued her second yellow card of the day and removed from the game.
The Quakers’ play somehow seemed to improve with only 10 players.
“The funny thing about that was that they actually played better when she got a red card,” Meredith said, “which happens sometimes in soccer because everybody knows that they have to play better.”
Penn’s midfielder Sarah Friedman finally got her squad on board in the 82nd minute, when her free kick bounced through traffic and landed in the upper left corner of the goal.
But Yale defense shut down Quaker offenders for the rest of the match, allowing Penn only one more shot and securing Yale’s win.
The game marked Penn’s first loss at home all season.
Meredith said he was especially relieved about the competition’s outcome because his team is still less than 100 percent. The squad had only 16 healthy field players Saturday.
“This team is kind of like the energizer bunny with a broken foot,” Meredith said. “So instead of keep going and going, we keep limping and limping — but still competing.”