For the first time in the program’s history, the women’s soccer team is headed to the NCAA College Cup.
On Monday the NCAA selection committee announced the 64-team field that will compete for the national championship, and awarded the Bulldogs (11-4-2, 3-3-1 Ivy) one of the 35 at-large bids.
Yale is one of 11 teams making its first appearance in the tournament this year. The Elis will face No. 20 Villanova (14-2-4) Friday in Villanova, Pa.
Dartmouth (12-4-1, 5-2-0) and Princeton (13-2-1, 6-1-0) joined Yale as the other Ivy teams to qualify.
Team members and coaches gathered at Eli’s on Whitney in Hamden to watch as the brackets were unveiled live on ESPNNEWS.
Head coach Rudy Meredith jumped up when he spotted Yale on the screen, and screams of sheer excitement filled the restaurant.
“Rudy [Meredith] noticed, and we all started to celebrate,” defender Eleni Benson ’05 said. “There was a lot of hugging and crying. We’re shocked and thrilled.”
The Bulldogs finished the regular season at No. 3 in the Northeast regional rankings.
But a 2-0 loss at Brown (6-9-1, 1-5-1) Saturday dimmed the team’s postseason dreams. The Bears, who had yet to win an Ivy League game all season, snapped the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak and shattered any confidence of a bid.
“We didn’t even entertain the thought of getting in if we lost to Brown,” forward Chandra King ’03 said. “I would have bet $100 against it. Going in, we thought if we won, we’d be in and if we didn’t win, we wouldn’t.”
Despite the loss to the Bears, the Bulldogs are arguably in their best season ever, with quality wins against Hartford, Harvard and Cornell. Their other losses came against nationally ranked No. 9 Connecticut, No. 25 Dartmouth and Princeton, who all spent time in the top 20 this year.
“We’re very proud,” Benson said. “We trained really hard, and I’m thrilled, especially for the seniors. They’ve earned it.”
For King, a trip to the tournament is surreal.
“It’s hard to believe,” King said. “I’m just glad my soccer career is not over. We’ve worked so hard for this.”
If the Elis advance, a possible second-round match could pit Yale against Hartford — an all-Connecticut matchup with intensity written all over it. The Bulldogs beat the Hawks earlier in the season for the first time ever. On a more personal note, Meredith is the fiance of Hartford head coach Eva Bergsten.
But the Elis are trying not to look too far ahead.
“We have another chance to end on a good note, even if we lose,” King said. “Villanova is a really good team. We have to be ready.”
And so the celebration was cut short as the team left Eli’s for practice Monday evening. For the Bulldogs, the season’s not over yet.