The stars seem to be aligning for the Yale women’s soccer team as it seeks its third Ivy League title and first since 2005.
Tonight, the Bulldogs open their title quest on home turf at Reese Stadium as they seek revenge for a 2–1 loss last year against Stony Brook (3–0–1). The Seawolves enter the matchup with plenty of momentum, having won their past three games.
After two injury-riddled seasons, captain Shannon McSweeney ’14 hopes to return to the field fully healthy and ready to lead the Bulldogs to the top of the Ivy League table. As a sophomore, McSweeney suffered a torn meniscus and missed the entire season, and last year she was forced out of six games due to a cyst that eventually required surgery. Though for most replicating freshman year is not a sought-after goal, that would be a major achievement for McSweeney.
“When I look back at freshman season, it was so much fun because I was out there every single game,” the senior defender said. “It changes your year so much. I want to repeat that. I want my senior year to be out there every game, contending — that’s my dream.”
If one thing is certain for this year’s Yale team, it is that they are battle-tested. Seven of their 17 contests last year went to overtime, with a remarkable four of those requiring two overtime periods.
McSweeney acknowledged that “soccer is a huge mental battle,” but that last season has only made the team stronger.
“We’ve been training for this season,” she said.
While McSweeney will command the defensive side of the pitch, the offensive load will likely fall on the feet of junior tandem Melissa Gavin ’15 and Muriel Battaglia ’15. They will be expected to fill the gap left by Kristen Forster ’13, who led the Bulldogs with seven goals last season.
Both Gavin and Battaglia scored three goals last year, the most among the returning crop of players, while five other returners found the net last season.
Gavin said she understands the greater expectations she will face this year.
“I feel pressure to step up. We’re playing with one less forward up top than we were last year so there is definitely more pressure for the forwards to capitalize on more scoring chances.”
Goaltending will be an interesting storyline to follow as head coach Rudy Meredith returns two experienced keepers, Rachel Ames ’16 and Elise Wilcox ’15. Last season, the two split time in net for much of the season, with Ames starting nine games and Wilcox starting five. Ames finished third in the Ivy League in save percentage, with a .814 average.
If the Elis wants to bring the Ivy League crown back to New Haven, they must substantially improve their performance against conference foes. Last year’s 8–7–2 record ensured the 10th winning season over the past 11 years, but a lackluster 1–4–2 Ivy League record left them in sixth place in the Ancient Eight.
The conference schedule started off in heartbreaking fashion last year after two double-overtime losses put the Bulldogs in an early hole. This year, players said the emphasis will be on starting the season with energy and intensity and maintaining both throughout the campaign.
The team’s Ivy League schedule gets under way on Sept. 28 at Princeton, with Harvard soon to follow.
“Winning the first few games sets you up for the rest of the season,” Gavin said. “Princeton, Harvard … winning those would be huge, standing-wise and morale-wise.”
It will require a complete team effort to knock off defending champion Princeton, as well as pre-season contender Dartmouth.
Despite these obstacles, the Bulldogs have high hopes and expectations for the season. McSweeney and Gavin said the goal this season was simple: win an Ivy League championship and go to the NCAA tournament.
McSweeney said the team saw how positively the school responded to the men’s lacrosse and men’s ice hockey teams last year during their postseason runs.
“We want to be talked about in that same way,” McSweeney said. “We need to get results.” The Bulldogs begin their season today at Reese Stadium at 7 p.m.