With just two regular-season games left on their schedule, the eight senior members of the No. 20 women’s lacrosse team will step onto Johnson Field this weekend for the last time looking to close out a tumultuous 2005 season on an upswing.
For a class which was part of the Elis’ 2003 NCAA Tournament run and grabbed a share of the Ivy League title that same year, a mediocre season in which a conference crown is out of reach may not seem like an impressive accomplishment. But for the Bulldogs (8-6, 3-3 Ivy), it was a season of transition, and they hope to demonstrate the large strides they have made when they host No. 14 Cornell (6-5, 3-2) Saturday.
At the beginning of the 2005 campaign, the Elis knew they needed to completely revamp their offense. Yale lost its two most prolific scorers from the 2004 season, Miles Whitman ’04 and Sophie Melniker ’04, who combined for 105 goals during their final year. To compensate, the Bulldogs had to create an attack which was much more team-oriented than in the past.
With about a third of the team composed of seniors, the Elis had no shortage of upperclassmen to help guide them through these changes. Led by captain Kerry Docherty ’05, the Bulldogs weathered a rough 1-3 start, suffering from mental lapses and poor control. The seniors, however, were able to use their experience and leadership to turn the season around.
“I think the Yale women’s lacrosse program should feel very fortunate to have such a strong senior class, both in lacrosse ability and in character,” attacker Katie Brownson ’05 said.
The Elis’ last two games, a 14-4 rout over Cal and a 14-6 victory over Brown, proved the Bulldogs have adjusted to this new style of play. Midfielder Katie Sargent ’05 and attacker Lauren Taylor ’08 have taken up most of the scoring duties, but this year’s stats are much less lopsided than in prior years. Midfielders Aly Croffy ’05 and Sarah Driscoll ’05 are close behind the two leaders.
“Coming off two wins is really important and should be really helpful,” midfielder Sarah Scalia ’06 said, “But, I think we also need to remember that Cornell is a much better opponent than Brown, and even Cal.”
The effectiveness of this balanced scoring attack will be tested by a particularly strong Cornell defense. The Big Red netminder, junior Maggie Fava, is coming off an extremely successful weekend, in which she posted her best numbers of the season — a .545 save percentage and 6.67 goals against average. Fava was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts last weekend as Cornell steamrolled Columbia and Brown.
Saturday’s game promises to be a hotly-contested match, with both teams fighting to finish their respective seasons in the top half of the Ivy League. Though the Elis and the Big Red both have just three conference wins for the season, Cornell rests in the number three slot, and the Bulldogs are in fifth.
The Elis have downed Cornell in both of their last two meetings, but the Big Red is much improved from previous years. Cornell has played close games all season long with national powerhouses such as No. 3 Princeton, which the Big Red took to double overtime before losing by one.
“Cornell has really come out this year and been a threat to a lot of top 10 teams,” Scalia said, “whereas in the past, they always had good-quality players but never seemed to click as a unit. We’ve beaten Cornell the past two years, but this year will probably be the most challenging and important because they are ranked above us.”
Considering that Saturday’s game will be the seniors’ last homestand, the contest will be more emotionally-driven than other home games have been this season. The members of the Class of 2005 will be fighting to make their last memory of Johnson Field a positive one, and they want their play to reflect how far they have come in the past four years.
“I don’t think any of us can believe that this is our last home game ever,” Sargent said. “We’ve had four amazing years together and it’s sad to see it all come to a close. We’ll all be thinking about that as we head into the game on Saturday. Hopefully it will give us the momentum that we need to defeat Cornell.”