A packed stand of more than 1,000 spectators watched as the women of Eli soccer ran down the powerhouse No. 17 University of Connecticut under the lights at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium on Friday night.
This weekend’s Eli 2-0 victory played as an exact opposite to the two teams’ last meeting, in which the Bulldogs lost 2-0 in Hartford.
“These kids are unbelievable,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “This is what happens when you leave it all out on the field, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Defender Christina Huang ’07 struck first for Yale at 34:54 when she blasted a shot past UConn goalkeeper Megan Jessee from 25 yards out.
“We were really prepared,” Huang said. “Every player went into the game knowing they had to give their best.”
Bulldog defender April Suida ’05 finished the night’s scoring with a goal in the second half at 57:58.
“We haven’t beaten [UConn] at least since I’ve been here,” Yale goalie and captain Sarah Walker ’05 said. “[But] we knew if we played well there was a good chance we would win.”
Despite UConn outshooting Yale 12-8 by night’s end, it was the Bulldogs who converted in stunning fashion, leaving the Huskies vulnerable in the national rankings. It is a significant setback for a UConn team favored to run away with the Northeast Region and contend in the NCAA Tournament after reaching the finals of the NCAA College Cup last year.
The night was especially significant for longtime UConn head coach Len Tsantiris, who was looking for his 400th career victory. But the Bulldogs would not have it, and Tsantiris will have to wait another game.
After defeating the Huskies, Yale improved to 4-0, tying the program’s best season-opening record. The last time the Elis began their season 4-0 was in 1998.
Yale’s victory Friday paved the way for their record-breaking win two days later. Midfielder Emily Haddad ’07 said she believes the Bulldogs owe their unprecedented start this season to a confluence of factors.
“With the players we have this year, the work ethic, and the team chemistry, we are setting ourselves up for success,” Haddad said. “If we come to play, which we have been, then I think we have a good chance of winning the Ivies, of making the [NCAA] Tournament and doing well in it — -better than we’ve ever done before.”
Haddad said the team gained confidence from the victory not just because they won, but because they had romped.
“UConn has this huge name, they were top 20 [in the nation] when we played them, they were great competition for us to go up against,” Haddad said. “That being said, we dominated. We didn’t just squeak by, we dominated. It gives us a lot of confidence and makes us really excited about the rest of the season.”
The Elis have held their opponents scoreless in their last three victories, allowing only one goal in the first half of the first game at UMass. That streak of seven scoreless halves- — more than 300 minutes of soccer — has brought the Bulldogs to a stunning 0.25 goals-against average.
Walker, an honorable mention All-Ivy last season, said it is the defense in front of her that has kept opponents off the board.
“I have to of course give a lot of credit to the defense,” Walker said. “I haven’t seen that many shots. You have to struggle to not give up goals, but this year so far, the defense has been so good.”
Walker said the lone goal allowed in the first game against UMass was a confidence builder in its own right because the Bulldogs rallied to win 4-1.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Walker said. “Because we’ve showed we can come back from being down a goal, and we haven’t allowed a goal since.”
Meanwhile, the Eli offense is finding a way into the net every game. After struggling offensively last season, Meredith employed a new offense designed to get more players involved around the goal, and up to now the new four-five-one formation appears to be working. But Meredith said he knows the offense can still do more.
“Obviously we can get a little bit better [on offense],” Meredith said. “We need to convert more of our chances, but we are creating chances.”