A winning streak on the brink of double-digits. A top 20 national ranking. The league’s most potent offense. The Ancient Eight favorite.
With lofty terms like these getting thrown around nowadays, the Bulldogs still somehow manage to keep their focus on a singular goal.
“Our goal for the season is to win Ivies, and we’ll take it one game at a time,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “That’s been our only goal from day one. We’re not playing to win rankings, that’s just a bonus.”
The Dartmouth Big Green (7-3, 1-1 Ivy) will barrel down I-91 on Saturday to face a Yale (9-2, 2-0) squad that seems almost magically devoid of any setbacks. The raw statistics speak volumes. The squad has not been on the losing end of a score since Camp Yale, and has now linked together more consecutive victories than any other team in program history.
The Hanover, N.H. denizens have put up very impressive numbers of their own, and have suffered only one more loss than the Bulldogs. But with the Elis coming into this weekend riding high on “the streak,” the home team has built up more than a fair share of confidence.
“I would say our mood is really excited,” forward Jamie Ortega ’06 said. “It’s more extra pressure. When it comes to crunch time, we set what we need to get done, and it gets done.”
The Big Green kicked off 2005 in much of the same way that the Bulldogs did. They came in on the fringe of the national rankings and faced a challenging non-league schedule, but rose to the occasion in nabbing five of their first seven. Their equivalent to the Elis’ early season jaunt down Tobacco Road — where Yale faced two of the premier national programs in then-No. 12 Duke and then-No.2 UNC — came the second weekend in September, at the St. Mary’s Tournament in Moraga, Calif. They kept No. 10 California off the scoreboard through two extra frames before bowing out in the 103rd minute, and then lost a frustrating 2-0 decision to host St. Mary’s.
“They’re a really strong team,” Ortega said. “They’re pretty good in the air and defensively rock solid. This is going to require us to put a lot of pressure on their backs and use the outside as much as possible.”
The visitors have split their first two Ivy affairs. They squeaked a lone goal past a defensively tight Brown squad to spoil the Bears’ home opener, but succumbed to Princeton the following weekend, 2-0, despite holding a 14-9 shot advantage.
Although the Big Green fell to a Tiger squad that the Elis had subdued only a few days earlier, Meredith said the program is still a league force to be feared. Meredith scouted the Princeton-Dartmouth game last weekend and has been rigorously preparing his team for the Big Green’s defense-oriented play.
“I saw the [Princeton] game, and I thought Dartmouth was actually a little better than Princeton,” he said. “They outshot Princeton, the scoring opportunities were equal, and it could’ve gone either way.
Meredith said the team will be looking out particularly for Sarah Johnson. The Big Green forward has seven goals and three assists to lead her squad in both categories.
Meredith also said the matchup has been lopsided in recent years, with the Bulldogs only winning a single game in his 11-year tenure in New Haven.
The Bulldogs enjoyed the biggest break in their schedule this week, going a full seven days between games. Reeling from a string of minor injuries and a bevy of road games, the squad agreed that the rest was a big boon.
“I’m happy to not have a game this week,” Meredith said. “We’re still banged up, and it’s an ideal week not to have a midweek game.”
Despite the time off, practices have been extra rigorous as the team prepares for Dartmouth’s particular style.
“They play three in the back with one defender in front of them,” Huang said. “We worked on getting through balls to wide players so we can beat them down channels, and we’re working on getting a lot of possession because they’re strong in the air. As long as we keep the ball on the ground, we’ll be in good shape.”
In the meantime, the Elis have bounced back into the national polls with a vengeance, rising to No. 20 in yesterday’s NSCAA weekly posting. While the honor is appreciated, Meredith is slightly worried as the Bulldogs move into unfamiliar territory.
“The only problem is now when you play a team when you’re ranked, they’re bringing their ‘A’ game all the time,” Meredith said. “Even if it’s not a good team, it will make their whole season to knock off someone this high. I don’t think we’ve been in this situation enough to be totally comfortable not being the underdog. I’m actually a little concerned.”
And if anybody will bring their “A” game, it will be Dartmouth. On a potentially rainy and muddy Saturday, the Big Green will be fighting to keep their Ivy hopes alive while the Bulldogs battle to add to their league lead.
Meredith has said it before, but he will say it again.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us,” he said.