In an opening weekend slated to be one of the toughest of the season, the women’s soccer team pulled off split results against two non-league powerhouses.
While the Bulldogs (1–1) fell to Illinois (4–1) on Sunday afternoon, the Elis upset No. 16 Penn State (1–3–1) by the same score in their season opener Friday night at Reese Stadium.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” head coach Rudy Meredith said of the weekend. “The thing we take away from this weekend is that we know we can compete at that level of competition.”
The Elis showed they could hang with their Big Ten opponents from the get-go on Friday. Yale played evenwith Penn State for the first 45 minutes, with both teams recording a handful of shots, but rarely threatening the net. Penn State forward Danielle Tony had the best chances in the first half —one of her shots glanced off the left post, and Bulldog goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 deflected another wide of net.
The fast but even pace of competition continued after the restart, but the Elis intensified their pressure as the half wore on. When Yale finally got an opportunity, captain and forward Becky Brown ’11 was there to capitalize.The reigning Ivy League Player of the Year broke away on a feed from midfielder Enma Mullo ’12 and slipped a shot into the bottom left corner of the net to notch what would be the game-winning goal with 28 minutes left in the match.
“This was one of the games where all the defense [was] taller, faster and stronger than Becky, so she [couldn’t] hide,” Meredith said. “She picked her moment, and she made the correct run at the right time.”
The goal served as a wake-up call to the Nittany Lions, as the squad resolutely took control of possession and totaled 10 shots in the half.
Penn State failed to capitalize on a direct free kick in the final 10 minutes and just could not bypass Sumiyasu, despite several attempts on net with less than five minutes on the clock.
Sumiyasu said the whole team contributed to staving off the opponent in the second half.
“The forwards were unbelievable in their defense — that’s the best I’ve seen them play in three years,” she said. “The defense is young, and they stood up well and they kept their shape for the most part.”
Brown called the win a major accomplishment for the team, especially against a nationallyranked squad such as Penn State. She said the Elis tried to overestimate their opponents and remain focused for all 90 minutes.
“We were taking them very seriously and expecting an amazing team to come out,” Brown said of Penn State. “They were scared. They were on their feet.”
On Sunday, the Blue found themselves looking at a 1–0 score from the losing side as Illinois forward Jordan Hilbrands produced the game’s lone goal in the 54th minute.
Neither side capitalized in the first half, but the Fighting Illini outshot Yale 10–2 and forced goalie Sumiyasu to make six saves.
Illinois continued to pressure the Elis after halftime. The away squad nearly scored early in the period, but Sumiyasu tipped a high shot over the net.
The play went to a corner, and that was the break the Fighting Illini needed. Sumiyasu saved defender Krystin Miller’s high shotbut couldnot get to Hilbrands’s rebound a split-second later.
Illinois continued to control possession for roughly another 15 minutes, but with about 20 minutes remaining to play, Yale’s offense finally seemed to click.
Brown led one of Yale’s best attacks when she dribbled up the field before sending the ball to forward Kristen Forster ’13. The sophomore sent a cross to open forward Miyuki Hino ’12 on the far left, but Illinois goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka saved Hino’s slow-roller. Another shot by Mullo soared over the net in the 69th minute, and two long shots taken by Brown were both punched over the crossbar by Kapicka in the final minutes.
Though Yale tallied nine shots in the second half, the home team was unable to capitalize. Meredith said Illinois’ goalkeeper played well and made several notable saves.
Sumiyasu also made a number of saves in the second period to keep the margin from opening any wider.
“Ayana was great today,” Meredith said. “She kept us in the game, which you’re going to need your goalkeeper to do in games like these.”
Mullo said the Bulldogs seemed less energetic on Sunday than they had Friday night, adding that playing two games so close together took a toll on the team.
“We have to keep in mind that we worked our butts off Friday night and left everything on the field,” Mullo said. “We knew we’d be playing a team that was just as good on Sunday, but we didn’t come out with the same intensity.”
Yale takes the field again Thursday night with the season’s first away game, against UConn, at 7 p.m.