Less than a minute into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament opener, it was clear that the second episode of the Yale-Villanova series would be different from the first.
When the Bulldogs and the Wildcats met two years ago in the first round of the tourney, neither team could find the back of the net through regulation and two overtime periods as Yale went on to win, 4-2, in penalty kicks.
On Saturday in Princeton, N.J., however, Villanova scored just 39 seconds after the opening whistle.
And while the Elis (13-5, 5-2 Ivy) managed to tie the game late in the first half, they could not fully regain their footing on a soggy Lourie-Love Field and fell, 2-1, to the No. 23 Wildcats (13-5-2). Along with the end of their season, the loss brings the Elis’ eight-game winning streak — the longest ever by a Yale women’s soccer team — to a halt.
“I don’t think we have any regrets about our game,” midfielder Lindsey Weening ’06 said. “I think that it was unfortunate we had to play in not-so-great conditions. We played just as well as we could have, and I don’t feel like anyone walked off the field thinking we hadn’t done our best.”
Saturday’s game marked the second tournament appearance in the history of Yale women’s soccer, the first coming two years ago when the Bulldogs also played Villanova in the first round. The Elis were victorious on that autumn occasion, upsetting then-No. 20 Villanova, 1-0, before falling to No. 17 Nebraska two days later, 1-0. But on Saturday, history refused to repeat itself.
The Wildcats captured the lead just 39 seconds into the game when forward Laura Johnson broke away from the Eli defenders up front and scored in a one-on-one situation against Bulldog goalkeeper Sarah Walker ’05.
Despite the early goal, the two teams played almost even through the remainder of the half. But late in the period the Elis began to dominate, creating chances around the Wildcat net until, with 8:52 left in the half, forward Stefanie Delvecchio ’08 settled a pass from forward Jamie Ortega ’06 and fired a shot into the upper right corner from 15 yards out.
The Bulldogs kept the momentum early in the second half and nearly went ahead. Just over 10 minutes into the frame, Ortega blasted a shot from 20 yards out that missed wide right. The Elis had their share of scoring chances, but it was the Wildcats that struck next.
Johnson scored again with 11:33 left to play when she broke away from her defender at the top of the box and blasted a shot from more than 20 yards out into the top right corner.
The Bulldogs continued the fight to the last minute and almost tied the game two minutes after Johnson’s second goal when Villanova goalie Jillian Loyden tipped an Eli shot over the crossbar. The Elis pushed a third attacker up front toward the end of the game but were unable to produce a goal.
Head coach Rudy Meredith said the Elis had a tall mountain to climb in scoring twice against the Villanova defense.
“The second half was pretty equal,” Meredith said. “We had a couple chances where we could have scored. Then they scored with 13 minutes left in the game. We pushed a third person up front, but they don’t give up a lot of goals. They’re a hard team to score against. That was a tough task, to get a second goal.”
The Wildcats outshot the Bulldogs 14-11 by the game’s end. Walker, who had four saves on the game, said there were several factors contributing to the loss.
“It was a big game, and we were a little nervous,” Walker said. “We didn’t get a chance to get set in our rhythm. It was a combination of things — the weather and the magnitude of the game.”
While the Bulldogs rode home, the Wildcats went on to play No. 12 Princeton (17-2, 7-0 Ivy) in second-round action Sunday afternoon. Villanova lost to the Ivy champion Tigers, 1-0, in double-overtime. Tiger forward Maura Gallagher scored in the 104th minute of play to send seventh-seeded Princeton on to the third round next weekend against Boston College. In their first-round game on Saturday night, the Tigers beat Central Connecticut, 5-0.
As these Elis look back on their 2004 season, they will see a long list of historic accomplishments: recording an eight-game winning streak, tying the program record for most victories in a season with 13, beating Dartmouth for the first time in a decade and lastly, making the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the history of Yale women’s soccer.
Those are the achievements Meredith said he will take away from this season.
“[I’ll remember] the chemistry and the character of this team,” Meredith said. “We had a bunch of games where we came back and won in overtime. The fact that we lost four games in a row — that could easily have been very detrimental to the team. But everybody kept playing. It was a lot of fun [to be] with this team this year.”