It had been called the biggest game in the history of Yale women’s lacrosse. With a flawless 8-0 record, the No. 8 Bulldogs trotted onto Johnson Field as one of only two undefeated teams in the nation, knowing that the upcoming game with No. 3 Princeton would likely determine the frontrunner in the race for the Ivy League title.
The Tigers roared out of the gates, scoring three unanswered goals and surging ahead to an 8-2 lead in the early moments of the second half.
But then the Bulldogs showed what they were made of.
Kate Flatley ’01 scored twice to cut the lead to 8-4, and goals by Clarissa Clarke ’03 and Katherine Myers ’01 pulled the Elis within two. Then freshman sensation Miles Whitman ’04 notched her second goal of the game, weaving through three Orange and Black defenders before rifling in the shot to close the gap to 8-7 with 18:04 left to play.
The packed stands went wild, as did the coaches and players on the Yale sidelines. For that moment, the eyes of Eli were were on women’s lacrosse.
The Bulldogs went on to drop the game to Princeton, finishing the year with three disappointing losses. But the spirit and excitement the comeback inspired that day stuck with all in attendance, an emblem of the tradition that the women’s lacrosse team has been able to build in its 25 years on the Yale sports scene.
Yale women’s lacrosse was founded as a club sport in 1975, and the program quickly earned a reputation as one of the best in the country.
The team lost only five games in its first three years of competition, boasting a 6-0 record in its inaugural season of 1976 and a 10-2 mark the following year. The early success had the Bulldogs slated against some of the most brutal competition in the country in 1978, but the Elis were unfazed and earned a 14-3-1 record to stand fifth in the nation, reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time.
A year later, Sally Child ’79 captained the squad to a No. 4 poll position, and the team played a game in the historic Yale Bowl.
“Playing in the Yale Bowl capped the season for me,” said Child, who won the Bowditch Award as team MVP in 1979. “Lacrosse meant a great deal to me, not only for the four years while I played at Yale, but more recently as I watched my own daughters grow up and take up this sport.”
A year after Childs and her teammates graduated in the Class of 1979 — the last link to the 1976 team — Yale won its first Ivy championship and advanced to the NCAAs for the third straight season.
It took the Bulldogs 11 years to best the 14-6 record they posted in 1979, but the beginning of the 1990s saw two of Yale’s best teams ever.
The 1990 squad faced national powers Princeton, Virginia and NCAA champion Harvard, but the Bulldogs still scratched and clawed their way to a 10-5 mark. The 1991 team, which celebrated the 15th anniversary of the program, battled similar competition and earned the Elis’ first outright ECAC Championship.
Four years later, the arrival of head coach Amanda O’Leary — a decorated U.S. national team player and three-time All-American at Temple — signaled a revival of the program.
The Elis captured back-to-back ECAC championships in O’Leary’s first two seasons. And in 1996, Yale was nationally ranked for most of its 10-4 season, and O’Leary was 1996 Regional Coach of the Year.
The Elis have continued to rise since, securing a 12-4 record in 1998 and a 14-4 record as well as an appearance in the ECAC finals in 1999.
This season’s squad held even more promise, thanks to one of the most touted freshman classes in several years, and Yale entered the spring with hopes of an elusive NCAA playoff bid.
Despite an auspicious beginning, marked by the No. 20 Bulldogs’ upset of No. 4 Dartmouth, the end of the Eli season was plagued by three disappointing losses. No. 12 Cornell and No. 19 Notre Dame were among the culprits who thwarted Yale’s hopes of a return to the postseason.
“That’s just Division I lacrosse,” assistant coach Stephy Samaras said.
Despite the team’s disappointing finish, the strong play of the freshmen and sophomores bodes well for the future. Rookie Whitman led the team in scoring with 32 goals, and Clarissa Clarke was on Whitman’s heels with 26 tallies of her own. Jenn Kessel ’04 quickly established herself as one of the toughest defensive players on the team.
“It’s hard to count on freshmen just because of their inexperience, but you can count on [Kessel, Sophia Melniker ’04 and Whitman],” senior Clara Gillespie ’01 said.
Yet a season in which the Bulldogs propelled themselves as high as No. 7 in the nation and narrowly lost 5-2 to No. 2 Duke can by no means be considered a failure. At the very least, the Elis reaffirmed the promise and excitement that has been a part of Yale women’s lacrosse for 25 great years.