VILLANOVA, Pa. — Head coach Rudy Meredith had a funny feeling that Friday’s NCAA tournament opener against No. 20 Villanova would be decided by penalty kicks.

So for the past three days, the women’s soccer team practiced taking penalty kicks. Friday against Villanova, Meredith’s intuition paid dividends for the Elis (12-4-2), who defeated the Wildcats (14-3-4) in penalty kicks, 4-2.

After regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods, the score remained tied, 0-0. Both teams had ample scoring opportunities, but neither could produce a goal and the game went into a shootout.

Yale advances to the second round Sunday when it plays No. 18 Nebraska (15-5-3), who beat Hartford (14-7-0), 2-0.

The Bulldogs’ postseason win was also their first NCAA tournament appearance in the 25-year history of the program.

“It feels awesome,” Meredith said. “It’s been eight years coming and I’ve been waiting for this. This is a very special team.”

Play was fairly even and continued similarly in the shootout, when Yale and Villanova exchanged two penalty goals apiece. But Yale pulled away 3-2 when forward Laurel Karnes’ ’06 blast left Wildcat netminder Chrissy Dolan flat-footed. Bulldog goalkeeper Lindsay Sabel ’03 blocked Michelle Biehl’s subsequent shot, which was aimed at the lower-right corner.

Lee Ann Jasper ’04 then scored and Sabel, in full extension, dove to her right to save Wildcat forward Janessa Jeltema’s shot for the win.

“I just had to relax,” Sabel said. “The pressure is on the shooter to score. They’re supposed to score.”

Sabel, who recorded 13 saves, is part of a phenomenal senior class that is largely responsible for the team’s success this year.

“Everyone’s been so dedicated,” captain Ali Cobbett ’03 said. “All of [the seniors] are leaders on the field. We all have the same goal.”