Midway through the second half, it looked like the women’s soccer team had the most important game of the season wrapped up.
The Bulldogs held a 2-0 advantage over the University of Pennsylvania with just under 20 minutes left on Saturday night at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.
But the Quakers battled back, scoring two quick goals and forcing the Elis to the brink of defeat before Yale finally sealed the victory in sudden-death double-overtime on a goal from forward Mimi Macauley ’07.
“I would have preferred to win in regulation, but to win in overtime is a little more exciting,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “I think it can carry over to the next game. I almost had a heart attack, but I like the way the kids showed a lot of heart, a lot of character, and didn’t give up.”
The Elis (10-4-0, 3-2-0 Ivy) rolled into the game on a four-game winning streak to oppose a Penn team on a tear of its own — the Quakers (7-5-2, 3-1-1) had won eight straight coming into Saturday’s action.
Both teams are vying for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by way of the selection committee, as neither team appears capable of overtaking Princeton (12-1-0, 5-0) to win the Ivy League and receive an automatic bid to the tournament. If both teams win their remaining contests, this game will be the determining factor.
“We knew we had four games left coming into today and we talked about four steps to the tournament — we have to win all four games,” Meredith said. “This was the first step.”
Midfielder Laurel Karnes ’06 got the scoring started at 33:52 in the first half with a goal from the right side on an assist by midfielder Jessica Berggren ’06. Karnes later assisted Macauley at 69:57 to give the Elis a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Quakers roared back, however, pushing the ball into Bulldog territory later in the second half until forward Rachel Snyder put Penn on the board with a goal at 71:57. Penn’s offensive juggernaut, forward Katy Cross, tied the game 10 minutes later with her 10th goal of the season, unassisted.
Both teams had their chances in the final minutes of regulation, with Eli goalkeeper and captain Sarah Walker ’05 making several diving stops. Meredith fell to the ground in frustration when the Elis missed an open shot wide right with just three minutes left to play.
In the first overtime, both teams again created scoring opportunities, but neither could find the back of the net. Quaker forward Rachel Fletcher had a breakaway shot mid-way through the first OT, but Walker made a diving save to her right. A minute later an Eli shot deflected off the top of the Penn goal-bar.
In the first minute of the second overtime, the Elis survived two Quaker shots in a span of five seconds. Finally, at the 102nd minute of play, Macauley ended the game off a feed from forward Jamie Ortega ’06.
“Christina put a header right into the middle of the field and [the ball] came to my feet,” Ortega said. “I had my back to the goal. I knew that Mimi was running behind me and the only chance I had was to flick it without looking and she was running into it perfectly–and the rest was left up to Mimi.”
Macauley had an open look at the net, with no one but Penn goalie Anna Halse between her and Eli triumph.
“[It was] just a perfect ball from Jamie,” Macauley said. “I just tried to concentrate and put it in. [The Quakers] are a good team. They worked hard, but I think we deserved to win.”
On the evening, Yale outshot Penn 13-10, and Walker made eight saves to Halse’s four. Meredith could not say enough about Walker.
“I think Sarah is the best goalkeeper in the Ivy League,” Meredith said. “She’s our MVP right now.”
Quaker head coach Darren Ambrose said he was proud of the way his team fought back in the second frame after allowing Yale too many chances in the first half.
“We’ve got a lot of character on this team, we’ve a lot of spirit, we’ve a lot of leadership,” Ambrose said. “We’ve got a lot of guts, and we showed tremendous character. Yale is a very good team, but we helped them in the first half. We gave them the ball in dangerous situations, and they capitalized.”
Ambrose added that the Quakers had only themselves to blame for first-half defensive lapses, but he felt the officiating played an unfair role in the outcome of the game.
“I thought the person that spoiled it the most was the referee,” Ambrose said. “That’s the worst case of officiating I’ve ever seen in the Ivy League in five years. It was a disgrace — the referee was a disgrace.”
Ambrose said the referee did not call pivotal fouls committed against his players. Meredith said he did not believe the officiating changed the end result.
“I don’t think the officiating changed the game,” Meredith said. “We had chances to score; we did. They had chances to score; they did. The bottom line: I don’t think the referee changed the game. I don’t like to blame referees — I blame myself or the players for not getting it done.”
The victory for the Elis marks a continuation of their Ivy League turnaround. After dropping their first two games in the Ancient Eight, the Elis have won three straight league games against Dartmouth, Cornell and Penn. The Bulldogs look to carry their momentum into Tuesday night when they host Rider at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.
“We’ve got to focus,” Meredith said. “We only have a couple days to prepare. [Rider] has won nine or 10 games — it’s going to be a tough game. But we’ve just got to take it one step at a time.”
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