For the second time in its history, the women’s soccer team will take the field in NCAA Tournament competition this afternoon.
The Bulldogs (13-4, 4-2 Ivy) ride an eight-game regular season winning streak into Lourie-Love Field at 5 p.m. today in Princeton, N.J. against the No. 23 Villanova Wildcats (13-5-2). Ivy League champion Princeton and Northeastern Conference champion Central Connecticut will face off afterwards at 7:30 p.m. The winners of the two games will meet Sunday at 1 p.m.
“It’s definitely a game we think we can win,” Yale captain Sarah Walker ’05 said. “We’re very excited just to get a chance to play in the tournament, but we want to win.”
The Elis last appeared in the tournament two years ago when they upset then-No. 20 Villanova, 1-0, in the first round before falling to No. 17 University of Nebraska in the next round, 1-0.
Head coach Rudy Meredith said that he wants his team to concentrate on today’s game, but to savor the experience.
“Part of this situation, since it doesn’t happen too often, is you want to try to enjoy the moment,” Meredith said. “You want the kids to enjoy the moment, but at the same time stay focused. I think these kids are ready to play.”
Meredith said practice went well this week.
“We have been working on finishing a lot,” midfielder Mia Arakaki ’05 said. “We need to definitely get the ball in the back of the net and on top of that we’ve been practicing penalty kicks everyday. [The Wildcats] haven’t given up very many goals. If we don’t get that goal in regulation or OT, we’re confident in our ability to get that goal on a PK.”
If the past is any indication of the future, the Bulldogs’ extra practice on penalty kicks will come in handy: Yale’s 2002 match-up with Villanova came down to penalty kicks with the Bulldogs prevailing, 4-2.
The Elis left campus by charter bus yesterday afternoon and practiced in the early evening before relaxing Thursday night. After eating dinner together, the team congregated in one player’s hotel room to watch Fox’s “The OC.”
Meanwhile, Meredith was thinking about the game and the future of Bulldog soccer in his own suite.
“When I first took over this job, one of my goals was to bring this team to the NCAA Tournament,” Meredith said. “We’ve done this two of the last three years, and now the question is, ‘Can we maintain this?'”
Meredith added that he hopes he can bring an Ivy title to the Yale program one of these years. But for now, the focus is on today and the Wildcats, which the Elis hope to eliminate once more.
Meredith said that no matter the outcome, this is a season to remember.
“Regardless of what happens,” Meredith said, “I’m very proud of this team and what they accomplished this year.”