NEW YORK — With one shot, Columbia forward Sophie Reiser shattered the Yale women soccer team’s Ivy League championship dreams.
Reiser scored the sole goal of the night in the 37th minute of Friday’s game at Columbia Soccer Stadium, leading the Lions (7–6–3, 3–2–1 Ivy) to a 1–0 win over Yale.
“It’s tough because the effort was there from the kids,” head coach Rudy Meredith said of the match. “They battled and the effort was good. I thought we deserved better.”
The loss knocked the Elis (9–6–0, 4–2–0) from first place in the conference standings. Prior to the Bulldogs’ contest with the Lions, Yale and Harvard topped the league with identical 4–1 records. The Crimson secured at least a share of the Ancient Eight title on Saturday, improving to 5–1 in conference play after notching a 2–1 win against Dartmouth.
Yale now sits in second place, just ahead of Columbia and Dartmouth — each 3–2–1 in league play.
On Friday, the Bulldogs struggled to capitalize on opportunities throughout the contest, tallying just one shot on goal during the first half.
“It’s one of those things where it just wasn’t our night,” defender and captain Sophia Merrifield ’10 said. “We worked hard, but things just didn’t click.”
Possession bounced back and forth during the first period, with neither team clearly controlling the offensive third.
Midfielder Kate Macauley ’11 had an opportunity to score about 20 minutes into play. She settled a pass from forward Becky Brown ’11 and dribbled through traffic all the way into the six-yard box, but a Lion defender got back just in time to block Macauley before she could take a shot.
Brown put forward Leslie Perez ’10 into scoring position minutes later, racing along the left side of the field before centering the ball to her teammate. But like Macauley’s attempt, Perez’s shot was deflected by a Columbia defender.
For whatever reason, the Eli offense just could not capitalize.
“I think when we had trouble it was because we couldn’t connect passes between the back line and the front line, and we just weren’t transitioning very well,” forward Miyuki Hino ’12 said. “Obviously up front we couldn’t get it done.”
And unfortunately for Yale, the Lions were able to get it done — even if only once.
The home squad seemed to rally with 15 minutes remaining in the first half, increasing its pressure and moving the ball into Yale’s defensive territory. The Lions had a series of three corners within five minutes — and they made the third one count.
Columbia forward Kelly Hostetler sent a long ball to the far post, where Reiser was waiting amid a cluster of players and tapped a shot past Bulldog goalkeeper Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13 to give Columbia the 1–0 lead at 36:01.
“We bobbled the ball on a cross, but I think the bottom line is that as a team, defending and goal-keeping wise, we need to do a better job defending corner kicks,” Meredith said. “That’s been an issue of ours all season.”
Meredith noted that Reiser was voted the league’s best player in 2008, adding that he had expected her to be a playmaking and goal-scoring threat in the game.
Yale finished the half with only one shot, while Columbia tallied two. The Lions also recorded a 4–3 advantage in corners.
Brown, who leads Yale’s offense with a team-high 12 goals on the season, said the Elis repeatedly struggled to take shots against the Lions.
“We have to be more dangerous when we are closer to the goal,” she said. “We have to take more shots and have more people in the box. We always wait for the perfect opportunity to shoot, but we should just test the keeper.”
Yale increased its pressure in the second half, but Columbia matched the Elis in energy and pace. It appeared the Bulldogs might tie the game right after the halftime restart when Brown crossed a ball to Hino in the 46th minute, but Hino’s diving header soared just high of goal.
“I didn’t know where the ball was, but I just launched myself at it,” Hino said. “I think it went off my head, but then it went wide.”
Perez had another shot in the 51st minute, but her ball also went high. Brown threatened the keeper a few minutes later, but Lion defender Lauren Cooke made a well-executed tackle just inside the 18-yard box to stop the forward’s run.
Then Columbia grabbed possession and forced the Elis to fall back on defense for much of the remainder of the period.
“I’ve got to give Columbia credit,” Meredith said. “They battled and worked hard for the 50-50 balls, but I thought we played the better soccer.”
Still, the Lions’ resolute attacks kept the Bulldogs from creating the goal-scoring opportunities they needed. And every time the Bulldogs managed to take a shot, the Lions seemed to respond with an immediate counterattack.
The teams matched each other shot-for-shot with five apiece in the second half. Columbia finished with a 4–0 advantage in corners. But neither side capitalized during the second period, and Reiser’s goal stood as the gamewinner.
“I think it was a pretty evenly matched game, which the score reflected,” Merrifield said. “Unfortunately we came out on the lesser half of that score.”
Now, for the Elis to have a shot at a piece of the Ivy title, they must beat Brown, and the Crimson must lose to Columbia this coming weekend.
“Obviously it’s not a situation you want to be in, having to need help from other people,” Meredith said. “But first we’ve got to focus on us beating Brown, so that’s the biggest hurdle right now.”
The Elis are back in action against the Bears next Saturday at Reese Stadium for the season’s final Ivy game.