Saturday’s game at Brown will be the final contest of the regular season for the women’s soccer team, but the Eli seniors hope it will not be the last of their careers.
When the Bulldogs (12-4, 4-2 Ivy) take the field on Saturday night in Providence, R.I. against the Bears (7-9, 2-4 Ivy), they will try to secure Yale’s eighth victory in a row and tie the program record for regular season victories with 13. In the process, the Eli seniors hope they will not play their final game on Saturday, but rather earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament by beating Brown.
“Last weekend was our senior night, and I think that got a little emotional,” midfielder Mia Arakaki ’05 said. “It hit us that this is the end of most of our soccer careers. It’s sad, but at the same time we know we have the opportunity to do something that’s been done only one other time in [program] history — make the NCAA Tournament.”
Arakaki said the team is confident it can defeat Brown this weekend despite a history of tough losses to the Bears, especially at Stevenson Field in Rhode Island. The Elis lost last year’s match-up at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium when the Bears scored with just three seconds left in the game to take a 1-0 victory.
Yale head coach Rudy Meredith pointed out that the Buldlogs have beaten Brown in Providence only twice in program history.
“They’re a tough team to play, especially at home,” Meredith said. “They’ve lost only one game at home this year, and we’ve only beaten them twice in the history of Yale at their place.”
Meredith added that in recent years, Brown has been dangerous because of their ability to adapt to their opponent’s style of play and exploit the weaknesses of the other team.
“I think both times the last couple years we’ve played them we’ve had trouble getting the first goal,” Meredith said. “The coach is well-organized in terms of making adjustments. We need to prepare ourselves for whatever could possibly happen so we don’t get caught off guard.”
Yet Brown is not as strong as in years past, struggling in sixth place in the Ancient Eight. The Bears are ranked a lowly seventh in goals per game (1.25) while the Bulldogs are third (1.75).
There is an even greater disparity in the defensive numbers, with Brown ranked sixth in goals allowed per game (1.19) to Yale’s second place ranking (0.81). The Elis have the second most shutouts in the league with eight, which is twice as many as Brown’s last-place total of four. Those differences are largely due to the work of Eli captain and goalkeeper Sarah Walker ’05, who sports the second-lowest goals against average in the league (0.89).
Yet senior midfielder Lindsay Demaree ’05 cautions that the Elis can not go into Saturday’s game arrogantly.
“Primarily we can’t underestimate Brown,” Demaree said. “Because their record might not be the best, [we could start] thinking the game is in the bag before we go onto the field. We need to go out with a lot of emotion and finish our chances, because we might not get many.”
Meredith said his squad needs to pay particular attention to Brown’s two strong strikers, including sophomore midfielder Kathryn Moos, who won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors last year after scoring 13 goals in her first season. Meredith also singled out defensive sophomore Jill Mansfield, who can whip the ball as much as 40 yards on a throw-in.
“She can actually throw the ball in 40 yards,” Meredith said. “It’s like a corner kick, and we have to treat it like a corner kick. She does a front handspring and whips the ball. She’s gotten four assists on this. That’s how [Brown] beat Columbia–she threw the ball from midfield and [the Bears] got a breakaway–that’s how they scored to beat Columbia.”
Meredith said that in practice this week he has made sure his players are prepared for Mansfield’s acrobatics on Saturday night.
“It’s something you have to be aware of — how to defend it,” Meredith said. “When the ball’s on her side, don’t let the ball get thrown over your head. And when it’s close to the goal, we play the throw-in like it’s a corner kick.”
If the Elis do manage to earn their eighth straight victory, they believe their record will convince the selection committee to give them a tournament bid. The Bulldogs last earned a berth in 2002 — a banner year in which the Bulldogs finished the regular season 11-4-2 and advanced to the tournament for the first team in the program’s history.
But no matter what happens after Saturday, a victory this weekend will put this year’s women’s soccer team in an elite class among their predecessors as one of only four teams in program history to win 13 games in a season.
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