The women’s soccer team will have a chance to send a message to the entire Ivy League on Saturday afternoon when they host rival Harvard. The Bulldogs are also set to take on in-state opponent Central Connecticut State on the road Monday night.
Yale (5–3–0, 1–0–0) is coming off an impressive victory last week over defending Ivy League champion Princeton. The Bulldogs will have to pick up where they left off in order to defeat Harvard (5–3–1, 1–0–0), a team that Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said is among the cream of the crop.
“When you play Harvard it’s just a different animal,” Meredith said. “I think they are the best team in the league.”
With a chance to open their Ivy season with two wins for the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs will have to do their best to contain Harvard’s freshman sensation forward Margaret Purce, whose five goals makes up a third of her team’s total scoring production this year. Meredith acknowledges Purce’s talent, but said he is aware that she is not Harvard’s only threat.
“Purce has the potential to be Rookie and Player of the Year,” Meredith said. “She’s a handful but you can’t put all your attention on her because they have other players as well.”
One of those players is Harvard midfielder Peyton Johnson, who is a key orchestrator for the Harvard offense. She leads the Crimson with three assists.
Yale is once again entering the weekend not knowing whether Rachel Ames ’16 or Elise Wilcox ’15 will start in goal, though Meredith said he is leaning towards Ames at the moment. Ames picked up the victory against Princeton last Saturday and boasts a .767 save percentage compared to Wilcox’s .741 save percentage.
Harvard has a similar quandary in goal. For the Crimson, three different goalkeepers have played in the last three games and each has played in at least two matches this season.
While the Bulldogs have two options in goal, the team is lacking in depth defensively. Injuries have taken their toll on the Yale defense. With defenders Christina Bradley ’16 and Ally Grossman ’16 already out indefinitely, defender and captain Shannon McSweeney’s ’14 injury during the Princeton game was a major concern for Yale. Fortunately, it appears that the captain will play this weekend. She is at about 75 to 80 percent health-wise, according to Meredith.
Despite the injury concerns, members of the team said that they are entering the game with a lot of confidence in themselves, especially after multiple come-from-behind victories.
“We’ve proven that we can come back from being down and that we won’t give up,” defender Meredith Speck ’15 said. “But every Ivy game is an absolute battle because you really only have one shot, so we don’t want to make it into a habit for us to have to constantly come back.”
Forward Paula Hagopian ’16, whose goal last week against Princeton gave Yale the victory, recognized that Harvard is one of the teams to beat in the Ivy League. However, she said she has faith that the Bulldogs are right at their level.
“After beating the defending Ivy League champs [Princeton],” Hagopian said, “I think we have a ton of momentum to go in with confidence and put [Harvard] away. Playing them on our turf with our fans and given how they beat us last year will definitely give us that extra boost.”
Harvard squeaked by Yale last year in a 1–0 overtime victory that put the Bulldogs in an early 0–2 Ivy League hole. This year, all the Bulldogs are focusing on is not falling behind in the conference.
As far as Central Connecticut State (2–7–0, 0–0 NEC) on Monday, Meredith admitted that not much attention will be paid to the Blue Devils until after the Harvard game.
“I won’t even watch any film on Central,” Meredith said.
Kickoff against Harvard is slated for 4 p.m. at Reese Stadium.