1977 was a long time ago. Since that inaugural year of Yale varsity women’s soccer, the Elis have seen five coaches, 29 captains and almost 500 regular season games. But they have yet to see an outright Ancient Eight championship.
In a conference historically dominated by Brown, the closest the Elis have come was a shared title with the Bears 12 years ago. But Yale (12-3-1, 4-1-1 Ivy) heads into the final weekend with a painstakingly narrow one-point lead over Dartmouth and Princeton, and Brown (5-9-2, 1-3-2) is all that stands between the Bulldogs and redemption from nearly three decades of frustration Saturday night.
The 12-time Ivy League champion Bears, led by 27-year veteran coach Phil Pincince, may be well out of contention this year, but they will be more than able to play spoiler tomorrow night at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium. While this season will go down in the history books regardless, midfielder Christina Huang ’07 said all will be for naught if the Yalies cannot nail down the Ivy title with a win in their last game.
“Right from the beginning of the season we started with all these record breakers,” she said. “But those records don’t mean anything without a ring that would cap off our season.”
The Bulldogs will have had only three days to prepare for Brown on the heels of Wednesday night’s exhilarating matchup. Facing first-place Dartmouth, the Yalies delivered their most physical, aggressive performance of the season, knocking the Big Green from the brink of a title back into second place. Forward Jamie Ortega ’06 said the coaching staff allowed little time to revel in the win.
“Immediately after we beat Dartmouth, we talked about Brown,” she said. “And over the next four days, all of our focus is on Brown.”
Despite its storied past, Brown has been in a rut the last few years. With only one league win this year, the Bears will be fighting to not finish dead last in the conference. But Brown has proved it can hold its own against an elite team — that lone Ivy win came against defending league champion Princeton.
Benson said the Bulldogs can tame the Bears so long as the Elis stick to their game plan.
“We all know we can beat them, as they seem similar to Cornell,” she said. “So long as we come out as hard as we can and not let what happened at Columbia happen again.”
While the Bears were winning nine straight Ivy rings in the 1980s, Yale had to struggle to stay out of the league basement. Even their lone title run in 1992 seemed to stick out as the exception in a wash of mediocre years.
The consensus seems to be that the current era of perennial contention began when head coach Rudy Meredith arrived in 1996. But despite building one of the league’s premier programs, Meredith has never coached in a title-determining game. As the Bulldogs prepare to square off against a team whose coach has more rings than fingers, Meredith’s decade of hard work will be in every Yale player’s mind.
“Rudy would be so thrilled,” she said. “He loves this team, and he’s taken it all the way from the bottom of the Ivies. He puts heart and soul into the team and cares so much about each one of us.”
Also at the forefront will be the eight seniors playing in their last Ivy game ever and most likely their last match in Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium. Huang said Ortega, a four-year veteran who started every game of her Yale career until being sidelined with a season-ending ankle injury two weeks ago, is particularly in players’ thoughts.
“The seniors are definitely on our minds,” she said. “We all said, ‘Let’s do it for Jamie, she wants to be out there so badly.'”
Team members said closing the season at home, where the Bulldogs have not lost this year, is very important to the team.
“The fans have been great all season, and I feel like there’s been more energy this year than in any years past,” she said. “We owe success to how much support we get on campus. In our last Ivy League game, in our last home game, this is exactly the situation I would have wished for. This is the way I want to go out.”
The formula for the championship is painfully simple. Neither Dartmouth’s nor Princeton’s games matter so long as the Bulldogs subdue the Bears. But because they hold 13 points to the Big Green’s and Tigers’ 12, the season is not necessarily lost if the Elis do not deliver tomorrow. Yale is champion regardless if both second-place teams lose. And if Yale loses and both Dartmouth and Princeton tie, there will be a three-way tie for the Ivy title.
But Ortega, who has witnessed the rise of Yale women’s soccer to national prominence in her four years here, said the Bulldogs will not need to rely on other teams to get the ultimate prize.
“Rudy always reminds us that we control our destiny,” she said. “Tmorrow night is everything we’ve worked for and we’ve wanted.”