Connecticut’s Fairfield County is most familiarly recognized by Yalies as one large, affluent suburb. Butin recent years, the county has served as a hotbed for some of the state’s and the nation’s finest soccer players. On its soccer fields, these players collide head on in fierce competition, forging rivalries, mutual respect and eventually, friendship.
Mimi Macauley ’07, a forward from Wilton, recalls an early meeting with current teammate and goalkeeper Susan Starr ’08 of Fairfield in which the two met face-to-face and emerged with matching concussions.
Ten years ago, however, when head coach Rudy Meredith took the reins of the women’s soccer team, there was only one Connecticut native on the roster. Although it was clear to him that there was great talent in the region, Meredith soon discovered other advantages of recruiting in his backyard. Through strong involvement with summer club teams, Meredith has access to the county’s finest players.
“Instead of simply looking at or recruiting a player maybe once a month, I can see them and coach them maybe every week,” he said.
Area club teams are very serious, time consuming, and expensive. They tend to produce highly-motivated players and a common trait that Meredith finds to be helpful in the Ivy League.
“I know [they] can afford the Yale education, because we can’t give out athletic scholarships,” he said.
Local players are also more likely to be able to attend games at Yale and get to know the program.
Today, there are five Connecticut players on the Yale squad, four of which come from Fairfield County. Eleni Benson ’06, this year’s team captain, hails from Willington in Tolland County, not far from the fertile grounds of Fairfield.
Ridgefield’s Brianne Baker ’06 certainly passed on her experience and wisdom to Macauley, as the two were co-captains of an area premier team. Macauley, however, had some misgivings at first about playing with Maureen Metzger ’05, a recently-graduated teammate. Metzger’s hometown was Trumbull, whose high school was a bitter rival of Macauley’s.
“I didn’t think [Maureen] liked me at all,” Macauley said. “I was terrified of Mo. But when I got here, she helped me out a lot, and I’ve tried to do that with the new girls.”
Maggie Westfal ’09 of New Canaan, a former opponent of Starr, has made the transition from foe to friend with her former rival as well. Starr will compete for the starting goalkeeper job and Westfal will play a key role on offense for the Bulldogs.
Beyond Yale, the county has produced many fine players in the past, most notably Christine Lilly. Lilly, like Macauley, coincidentally, was a two-year captain at Wilton High School, and went on to star at the University of North Carolina and the women’s national team.
Westfal, the newest homegrown Bulldog, is a prime example of the kind of player Meredith has been able to recruit in the state. The Connecticut Player of the Year out of New Canaan High School, Westfal was named a high-school All-American twice while leading her school to three state championships in four years. If all goes well, Westfal will trade in her cleats for skates this winter when she joins the hockey team. Even with all her great credentials, Westfal admits to some growing pains.
“College soccer has been a big adjustment,” she said. “I still have so much left to learn.”
The past weekend’s games against Duke, ranked 12th nationally, and North Carolina, ranked second nationally, provided a stiff test for both rookies and experienced players alike, as the team dropped two 1-0 matches to the ACC powerhouses. Although starting the season with a pair of losses seems somewhat inauspicious, the team will not see tougher competition all year.
“We should be prepared for anything — offensive sets, different formations,” Meredith said. “We’ve already faced them.”
Meredith also noted that having so many players from Connecticut helps the team even more in their home matches. Being so close to Yale, a large number of family members and friends travel to cheer on their hometown heroines.