The women’s soccer team has everything. A lightning quick midfielder, a veteran goaltender, a solid defender from the bench, one of the fastest forwards in the Ivy League and an explosive scorer.
But not one of them is fully healthy.
With five key players nursing injuries of varying degrees, it will be up to this year’s crop of five freshmen to set the tone before the veterans return for the push for the postseason. Although the Bulldogs have proven their ability to knock off top competition in the past, inconsistency and late-season losses contributed to their 9-7-1 record and fifth-place Ivy League finish a year ago — marks on which the Bulldogs hope to improve this season.
“We’re a much smaller team this year, but we’re gelling very well together,” captain Sara Ruiz ’02 said.
The loss of last year’s captain, star defender Jennifer Mendoza ’01, and the sidelining of Lauren Gillies ’03 won’t make this season any easier.
Expected to miss the entire 2001 season because of a knee injury suffered a year ago, Gillies will redshirt this year.
But the Bulldogs return last season’s Ivy League scoring leader in Chandra King ’03. Her rifle-like shot, coupled with her ability to make key assists, earned her quite a reputation among the Ancient Eight — as well as first team All-Ivy honors. But the Eli offense may struggle this year since King lacks solid support up front. Not joining her on the attack is another leading scorer, Liz Jarchow ’03, who will likely sit out the first few games with a strained hamstring.
“There are more returning players who are injured and on the bench than there are on the field,” defender LeeAnne Jasper ’04 said.
Ruiz will need to step up at the midfield position and be a force on both offense and defense. She has been nursing a stress fracture in her ankle during the preseason but has been practicing lately and should be healthy in time for the season. Ali Cobbett ’03 will help Ruiz with her explosive speed, and Megan Strenski ’02 is another solid player who brings sorely needed experience to the field.
Maureen Metzger ’05 is a talented newcomer who will vie for a starting spot on defense. This high school All-American from Trumbull, Conn., is one of five new additions to the roster, all of whom should see playing time this season as they bolster the depleted lineup.
“The freshmen are really consistent as a whole group, and that’s just what we need,” Ruiz said.
The Elis’ traditionally tough defense will have a few holes this year. Goalkeeper Sarah Peterson ’02, who had a school-best 1.28 GAA, recently underwent knee surgery and is not expected to return until midseason. That blow, coupled with the loss of Mendoza to graduation, leaves the Eli backfield without the solid core they once relied on.
Lindsay Sabel ’03 will take over the netminding duties, and rookie Sarah Walker ’05 will add depth to that position, but it will be up to Ritha Belizaire ’02 and Jennie Garver ’03 to anchor the backfield. Both players started in every game last season and the Bulldogs will look to them for consistency on defense.
Returning as the team’s rookie of the year, defender Jasper will need to have a breakout season this fall if the Bulldogs hope to be successful. She will be called upon to help the vulnerable backfield.
“I’m the only returning [outside midfielder]. It’ll be tough,” Jasper said.
With so much uncertainty in the Eli lineup, at least in the early going, how quickly the freshmen adapt to collegiate play will likely set the tone for the season.
Despite all the recent injuries, the team is still optimistic about the season.
“I think we really have a chance to win the Ivy League this year,” Jasper said. “Both [third-place] Brown and [second-place] Dartmouth lost a lot of seniors so competition will be a lot more even.”
In the final game of the 2000 season, the Bulldogs unexpectedly lost a 3-2 overtime match to Brown, crushing their hopes of a postseason berth. Yet, the Elis had pulled off one of the most memorable upsets in recent history with a 1-0 defeat of then-No. 25 Connecticut just a month earlier — proving their ability to compete at the highest level.
If head coach Rudy Meredith can rally his troops through their numerous injuries and grueling schedule, which includes perennial powerhouses No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 9 Connecticut, the Elis will have their spot in post-season play — Meredith’s mark of a successful season.