The Ivy League has no playoff tournament, but as far as the women’s soccer team is concerned, they are playing their semifinal game tonight in New York.
As the last few days of the regular season tick down, the formula could not be any simpler. Win tonight, and a single victory stands between Yale and their first outright Ancient Eight crown ever.
“It’s a two game season, we just have to win both games,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “If you don’t win the semifinal, you don’t get to the final against Dartmouth [next Wednesday].”
The Elis (11-2-1, 3-0-1 Ivy) head to the uppermost tip of Manhattan this evening to square off against a Columbia squad (8-5-1, 2-2) gasping for survival in the late-season standings. At the rate the Yalies were going up until last weekend, many thought the Columbia Soccer Stadium would be the venue where they would vie for their 13th consecutive win. Alas, the two-month winning streak would not live to see the Big Apple, expiring in the muddy trenches of Philadelphia’s Rhodes Field six days ago in a rainy 1-1 tie.
While a tie with the Quakers is nothing to be ashamed of, midfielder Mimi Macauley ’07 said she had a hard time shaking off such an abrupt end to the program’s longest-ever streak this week.
“It said a lot about the determination of this team that we were all so frustrated,” she said. “We were so upset. I had to keep reminding myself that we didn’t lose.”
Midfielder Christina Huang ’07 characterized the tie as a “good warning,” saying the Elis had taken for granted that every team would roll over for them. But after a week of high-intensity practices, the focus of the team is squarely set on notching a win that would bump the fading Lions out of contention and bring the Bulldogs within one victory of the coveted ring.
Columbia has had an eccentric and inconsistent run this season, yet somehow still stands third in the Ivy ranks. The Lioins started the season losing to a dreadful Quinnipiac squad that the Bulldogs later pulverized, and to this point have been outscored by opponents 21-20. But Columbia was able to handle the Quakers three weeks ago, albeit in the confines of their home stadium.
Meredith said the key to the Lions’ persistence is a spiffy defense and an ability to stay close with any opponent.
“They work very hard as a team, they play good defense,” he said. “They’re a dangerous team if you let them hang in the game. Last year they scored first, and it was that much harder … to come back.”
The fact that Dartmouth pounded Columbia, 5-0, last weekend in Hanover, N.H. is fresh in the Elis’ minds. Since the Lions and Big Green constitute Yale’s “playoffs” over the next five days, it may be tempting to think Columbia will be a breeze compared to the mighty Granite Staters, but Meredith said any team that could hold Dartmouth to a tie through the halfway mark is capable of beating the Bulldogs.
Huang sees the Big Green’s offensive display as a measuring stick and further incentive to blast out of the gate offensively at tonight’s whistle.
“This weekend has been all I’ve been thinking about,” she said. “My personal goal will be to beat them by more than five [and] show Dartmouth that we are better.”
These may be lofty goals for a team who could only muster a single score against Penn last weekend. The offensive frustration in Philadelphia was largely due to the Quakers’ heretofore unseen 3-5-2 formation with three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards. Though Penn kept the ball in the midfield and curtailed Yale offense, Meredith was hesitant to adjust his on-field lineup until the second half, when he brought in a fifth midfielder. With the lessons learned from last weekend and the unsavory field conditions tonight, Meredith will be more willing to adapt a strategy to the situation.
“We know we might have to make some adjustments in the game,” he said. “We have backup plans, a B, C and D option, so we are prepared for whatever they start.”
Huang expects the Lions to play conservatively, with an emphasis on clearing the ball.
“Rudy says a lot of the team is going to try to play over our backs,” she said. “They will keep trying to get us back in our end.”
In this penultimate weekend of league play, Yale-Columbia is the only game on the docket today. But the Bulldogs have their eyes set on other Ivy weekend match-ups. Meredith will be scouting at Ohiri Field during Dartmouth’s match with Harvard, since a Big Green loss means that all the Bulldogs need is a tie to wrap up the Ivy title.
But this is only relevant if the Bulldogs can subdue Columbia tonight. They plan to draw on the adrenaline from last weekend.
“We’re going to be angry right out of the gate and try and go for the early goal,” Macauley said. “I feel bad for Columbia, since we’re going to come out with whatever we got.”