With their first Ivy League bout against Princeton still more than a week away, excitement is already gripping the Yale women’s soccer squad as an intense position battle unfolds.
The Bulldogs’ coach, Rudolph Meredith, has split time thus far this season between two standout goaltenders, Elise Wilcox ’15 and Rachel Ames ’16, who are locked in a heated contest to win the starting goalie position. Players said that practices this season have been pushed to game-like intensities as the two keepers engage in a friendly, but ardent competition for the top role.
“Being in competition makes us both better,” Wilcox said. “You always want to be ready no matter who’s starting, and we motivate each other to do better.”
Ames painted a similar picture of the contest, saying that the two are naturally competitive and consistently give their all.
While the goaltenders are obviously competing for a key spot, Wilcox noted that their rivalry on the field does not diminish their respect for one another and the camaraderie born of a shared love of the game.
“Elise and I are always joking around together after plays, and we’ll always compliment the other on a nice save,” Ames said. “I think we’re pretty evenly matched players honestly, and it’s nice having someone to compete against who makes you better.”
So far this year, they have put up similar numbers in between the pipes, with Wilcox recording a .688 save percentage and Ames a .667 mark. Ames played the Elis’ first game of the season against Stony Brook in net, while Wilcox commanded the second against UMass-Lowell. In the two games since then, Wilcox has started the game, and Ames has taken over in the second half.
Midfielder Lillian Bitner ’17 praised the two keepers’ collective talents.
“They’re both amazing players who are really evenly matched,” Bitner said. “Elise is a little taller, so she has a bit better reach, but Rachel is excellent at leaping out for balls, so things really balance out.”
Bitner added that the position battle ultimately makes both players better and creates a “quicker” pace that the team benefits from in practice and in games. The freshman noted that she thinks the competition would only make the team better going forward.
The Bulldogs play three games in the next five days against Hartford, Sacred Heart and Fairfield, before their Ivy League debut at Princeton on Sept. 28. Last season, the Elis hosted the Tigers in their first conference matchup, but fell 2–1 in overtime.
Meredith, who is in the enviable position of having two great choices in Ames and Wilcox, weighed in on the ongoing contest.
“The playing arrangement for this season going forward will be determined by how the two keepers play. If they stay even, I’m going to play them evenly,” Meredith said. “If one keeper goes on a hot streak, I’m going to keep her in, even if I had planned on splitting playtime earlier. Stylistically, they’re very similar. They’re both solid players and I don’t have enough information right now to really see a clear difference.”
Like his players, Meredith is convinced of the benefit that the competition brings to Yale’s overall quality on the field.
“If you’re shooting on goal in practice, as an attacking player, and both keepers are giving it they’re all, you have to play even better to beat them. I can see that the [the competition] creates a more energetic environment for our practices.”
Wilcox and Ames will renew their competition tonight against Hartford at Reese Stadium at 7:00 p.m.