The women’s soccer team is making a convincing case down the stretch for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Bulldogs (12-4, 4-2 Ivy) came back from one goal down to win their seventh straight game in a 3-2 defeat of Columbia (8-7, 1-5 Ivy) Saturday night at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.
In their final home game of the season, the Elis tied the program record for consecutive wins, including four straight victories over Ivy League opponents after starting conference play with two losses.
“I think four games ago we said we needed four games to make the Tournament,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “We talked about four steps to the Tournament. [The victory against Columbia] was the third step, and now we’ve got one more.”
As for the streak, Meredith said he always likes to rewrite the record books in a positive way.
“We didn’t even know until [after the game] that we just tied the school record for [longest] winning streak,” Meredith said. “I love records like that — that have to do with winning.”
The Elis have not lost since Oct. 2, but Saturday the Lions put the Bulldogs’ streak to the test. Yale dominated Columbia throughout the game, controlling the ball in the Lions’ end and stifling the Lions’ offense, but it was the visitors who struck first.
Only eight minutes into the game, Columbia’s offensive star forward Shannon Munoz scored on a penalty kick.
Yale forward Mimi Macauley ’07 said the team never doubted it would come back.
“I think it was unfortunate that they had once chance and they got a PK out of it,” Macauley said. “But I don’t think our team ever thought we were going to lose that game. It didn’t really faze us. It was just like, ‘now we need two instead of one.'”
It looked as though the Bulldogs would go into the locker room at halftime down a goal until Meredith put a third player at forward and the Eli offense exploded. Midfielder Laurel Karnes ’06 scored with six minutes left in the half at 38:59 on a cross from forward Stefanie Delvecchio ’08.
With 30 seconds left in the first half, Delvecchio put Yale ahead with some skillful footwork around the Columbia net. It was an especially sweet goal for Delvecchio, who nearly went to Columbia to play soccer before Meredith invited her to play for Yale. She said she had to break a verbal agreement with the Columbia coach in order to play for Yale — an opportunity she could not pass up.
“It was definitely a very emotional game from the beginning,” Delvecchio said. “It’s a game I’ve probably been ready [for] from since the beginning of the season. I really wanted to put one in the back of the net. It felt great.”
Meredith said he had a hunch that Delvecchio would contribute if given the chance to get off the bench and get into the game.
“I had a really good feeling that Stefanie was going to score,” Meredith said. “I knew she wanted to score because it came down to Columbia or — us and they actually weren’t too nice to her about it. I think she had this game on her calendar.”
Delvecchio gave the Elis the momentum and a lead they would not relinquish.
“Mimi was working hard up front, trying to take her defender on,” Delvecchio said. “She got stuffed by a couple of defenders, and I took the ball from her. The goalkeeper came out to challenge me, I went around her and knocked it into the net — and then ran around screaming at the top of my lungs. I just glanced over at the Columbia coach. I wanted to make sure the coach felt badly about me coming to Yale and Rudy felt good about it.”
The Bulldogs did not let up in the second half. Just five minutes in, forward Jamie Ortega ’06 stole the ball near midfield, brought the ball down the sideline and fired a shot into the top corner of the Lions’ net to give the Elis a two-goal lead.
But Columbia kept the pressure on with a goal at 75:58 when defender Meghan Hurlbut settled a pass from forward Rachel Biondolillo and blasted a shot in from 15 yards out.
Despite their resilience, the Lions were not able to score again, and the Bulldogs preserved their victory.
Saturday’s win marks a noteworthy turnaround for the Elis, who started off 0-2 in league play but have bounced back from the bottom of the conference standings to sole possession of third place behind the University of Pennsylvania (9-5, 4-1-1) and Ivy champions Princeton (14-1, 6-0 Ivy). The nationally-ranked No. 8 Tigers clinched the title on Saturday with a 7-0 victory over Cornell (4-10-2, 1-5).
The Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes will depend on the mercy of the selection committee, as Yale cannot secure an automatic bid via the Ivy title. But the Elis are making a strong case with four consecutive league victories, including wins over UPenn and Harvard (7-6-2, 3-3) — the two other Ivy teams competing with Yale for at-large bids.
Eli captain and goalie Sarah Walker ’05 said Saturday’s game was not the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season, but they got the result they needed.
“We came through and scored when we needed to,” Walker said. “It’s definitely, right now, one game at a time. We’re more concerned with winning for the sake of making the Tournament than the winning streak.”