Teammates counted on defender Eleni Benson ’05 to start the scoring from the backfield. But they never expected her to finish.

Benson scored her team-leading fourth goal as the Yale women’s soccer team (5-1-1, 1-1 Ivy) bested Cornell (4-2-0, 1-2 Ivy) Saturday at Ithaca, N.Y., 2-0. The victory was Yale’s fourth in a row.

“Teams forget that Eleni can score. They focus on our forwards, giving Eleni scoring opportunities,” said head coach Rudy Meredith.

Benson, who entered the season with no goals, has emerged as a go-to girl amid a well-balanced Bulldog attack.

“Opponents have to be aware of everyone on the team. We have so much firepower,” Meredith said.

The team’s freshmen, who alone have accounted for three game-winning goals, are just as unforeseeable and formidable a scoring force.

In their wins, the Bulldogs have traditionally started slowly. But in the 23rd minute, Laurel Karnes ’06 helped shake the Elis’ opening-half struggles.

Using several dribbles to get behind the defense, Karnes brought the ball to the Big Red’s 18-yard line and unloaded. The shot deflected off a Cornell defender toward midfield, where Jamie Ortega ’06 received and promptly returned it. Cornell goalie Katie Thomas blocked the ball, but Karnes finally put it away to grab the lead for Yale at 1-0.

“We got our confidence. We knew we can win,” said Karnes, who was named Ivy League Women’s Soccer Rookie of the Week this past week.

With sheer athleticism and their traditional tactics of passing and combination sequences, the Bulldogs dominated the rest of regulation. Unambiguously outplaying Cornell, Yale outshot its opponent for the sixth time in seven games.

“We were able to relax after Laurel scored,” Benson said. “We picked up momentum and put a lot of pressure on Cornell.”

Yale extended its lead at 50:06 when Benson headed a corner kick into the back of the net.

At the other end of the field, the Yale defense, paced by Jennie Garver ’03, shut down the Big Red scoring.

“The defense has been solid. Nothing gets past them,” Karnes said.

Lindsay Sabel ’03, averaging less than one goal allowed per game, recorded her fourth consecutive shutout.

“There were less scoring chances [for Cornell]. Our goalkeeper was not even tested,” Meredith said.

Saturday’s win sustains Yale’s hope for the Ivy League championship. A loss to the Big Red would have virtually eliminated Yale from contention.

“If we didn’t win, we wouldn’t be able to win the Ivy League,” Meredith said. “Not with teams like Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth.”

More than its first conference win, the game was Yale’s first win away from its home turf.

“It was important for us to win our first away game. It’s a different environment when you are not home,” Meredith said.

Despite the victory, Meredith said that the season is still in its early going. Tougher opponents like the University of Connecticut lie ahead, she added.

“We were a little sloppy,” Meredith said. “We didn’t play our best.”

But the mark of a good team is its ability to win even when not playing at its best. And with a five-game winning streak, the Bulldogs — ranked No. 6 in the region — are looking good.

Yale returns to the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium Wednesday, hosting Central Connecticut.

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