As the final seconds ticked off the clock in her last game in front of a home audience, Clara Gillespie ’01 stood by the sideline with her face in her hands, her frustration and disappointment obvious.
The No. 13 women’s lacrosse team (10-4, 5-2) dropped its second Ivy League game of the season, and with it, their chance at the Ivy crown. The 11-7 upset by No. 12 Cornell (9-3, 4-2) left the Bulldogs reeling and could be the difference in whether the Bulldogs make it into the NCAA playoffs.
It seemed like the Bulldogs that took the field Saturday were not the same Bulldogs that had dominated Brown a week ago.
“Our sprit just seemed to die,” captain Liz Gardner ’01 said. “We just didn’t have that spark that we needed, and Cornell is good enough that we weren’t going to be able to win playing mediocre lacrosse. [Cornell] wanted it more than us.”
Yale struck first, with Gillespie netting a goal less than three minutes into the game. Nine minutes later, attacker Sophie Melniker ’04 drove to the crease, drawing several defenders with her before kicking out a pass to a wide-open Clarissa Clarke ’03 for the score. Clarke’s goal gave the Elis a 2-1 lead with 19:35 remaining in the first half.
But the lead was short-lived, and Yale faltered when Cornell seized the opportunity to surge ahead.
“Our bodies were out on the field, but I don’t know if our minds were there,” assistant coach Stephy Samaras said.
The Bulldogs started to drop passes and before long, miscues and lost ground balls became Big Red goals. The Cornell offense proceeded to score four straight goals to take a 5-3 halftime lead.
In the second half, Clarke notched a goal just 58 seconds into the stanza. But Cornell scored three straight goals to put the game away, taking an 8-4 lead.
“We never got a chance to build up momentum,” leading scorer Miles Whitman ’04 said. “It’s tough to be in the game when they come back and counter with a goal after you’ve just put one in the net.”
On offense, the Elis could simply not hold on to the ball. Aggressive Cornell stick checks knocked ball after ball loose from Eli sticks. Also, unlike the patient Big Red attackers, the Bulldogs were not taking high percentage shots.
“We had the same execution problems [against Cornell] that we did against Duke and Princeton and Notre Dame, like not putting the ball in the net when we get chances,” Gardner said. “And we didn’t limit their shot selection.”
The Elis converted only four of 27 shots while Cornell netted 11 of their 26 opportunities.
On the defensive end, the team was not playing as a unit and it showed, defender Jenn Kessel ’04 said. In an attempt to bring the defense back together, Amanda Sisley ’03 was replaced by Amanda Laws ’03 with 13 minutes remaining in play.
“Amanda Sisley was just having a bad day, and we had to switch something up,” Samaras said.
But the Bulldogs were too far behind to comeback against the confident Big Red.
Cornell goalie Carrie Giancola came up with many big saves, tallying 14 in the match.
The discouraged Elis looked back at the game wondering what went wrong, but could not pinpoint anything.
“The game was frustration because it wasn’t a game when you could point to a single place on the field where we were having problems like [we could] against Princeton where our problem was the transition,” Gardner said.
Making the loss even more bitter was the news that No. 6 Dartmouth upset No. 5 Princeton 13-5, meaning that if the Elis had won, they would have been tied for first place in the Ancient Eight standings.
“It was like adding salt to the wound,” Gardner said.
With just two games left — against Rutgers and No. 20 Johns Hopkins — the Bulldogs want to prove they can play to their potential and salvage a playoff bid. To make it to the postseason, the Bulldogs know they must win out so they look stronger than other “bubble” teams like No. 10 Syracuse or No. 14 Penn State, Samaras said.
But the team knows what an honor it is even to make it to the tournament.
“We lost any home field advantage we might have had, and we will obviously be playing a tougher team, but making it to the tournament will be a feat in itself,” Gardner said.
A trip to the Big Dance would be a first for Yale in head coach Amanda O’Leary’s eight-year tenure.