It was a year ago this week, and the women’s lacrosse team was headed to the airport. Safe to say, the Elis were not too happy.
Exams were looming as the spring semester entered its final days. Many a final paper was due the next Monday. The exhaustion factor of the Ancient Eight home stretch was reaching its peak. So a five-day jaunt to San Francisco — or Palo Alto and Berkeley, to be exact — for some late-season non-league action was hardly deemed a vacation by the Elis.
The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker at Stanford, but the lasting image of the trip was the absolute pounding the visiting Yale squad would unleash on Cal two days later. The Pac-10 powerhouse buckled under six goals from then-senior star Katherine Sargent ’05, and the Elis somehow strutted out of the Bay Area with a 14-4 triumph.
Now, this Easter Sunday, the Golden Bears (5-7) will come to the Elm City and try to return the favor.
“We just know they’re going to be so angry,” midfielder Lauren Taylor ’08 said. “After what we did to them last year, they’re coming into our home this weekend and they will be mad.”
Last year, the Bulldogs pulled out a poised victory with every factor working against them. Not only were they on the road at a less-than-opportune time, but Cal was in the midst of an eventual 11-6 season and en route to appearing in their conference finals. This year, Yale (7-6, 2-3 Ivy) comes into this weekend’s battle with the same 2-3 league record, but will only have to take the bus a few blocks down Chapel Street to meet a struggling Bears squad.
Cal, led by junior middie Liz Reifsnyder’s 29 points, has limped through much of 2006. The Bears were mired in a four-game losing streak during which they lost by double-digits to a string of ranked teams before finally bouncing back with a resounding 19-7 win against St. Mary’s last Thursday. The Bears, like the Elis, are all but dead in the race for their conference title, but murmurs of an improbable NCAA bid may still softly buzz during Sunday’s matchup on both sidelines.
Taylor cited the volatile nature of Ivy play this year as reason to believe an at-large bid could be in the works for the Elis with a strong finish. Captain Sarah Scalia ’06 was not quite as optimistic, but still put an emphasis on a strong final record going into the last week of the season.
“Cal always has a really strong program,” she said. “And the fact that we’ve been eliminated for the Ivy race is not a big factor. Not only do we have a little rivalry with Cal, but we’re still focused on putting together the best record that we can.”
The Elis will face two Ancient Eight opponents after their clash with Berkeley: a mediocre Brown squad in New Haven, then the dangerous No. 12 Big Red in Ithaca. Despite the emotional drain that the final week of play can bring, Taylor said the coaching staff has done more than its fair share to keep morale high.
“We’re getting a little levity for it being the end of the season,” she said. “We played kickball yesterday and will have an Easter egg hunt after practice on Saturday. The coaches do a good job keeping it fun but keeping us focused.”
As for Yale head coach Amanda O’Leary, she is just happy that this mini-tradition of trading cross-country detours with Berkeley will come to an end after this season.
“Last year was horrible, a big strain both academically and athletically,” she said. “We have to reciprocate, but after this year, there’s no way we’re returning that trip. It’s just too far.”
And in regard to goals for the end of the season, O’Leary says the legacy of the 2006 campaign lies not with the NCAA selection board, but in the hands of her players.
“If we win out, I’ll be really happy,” she said. “At the beginning of the season we had high expectations, and, especially at Dartmouth, some great accomplishments. But it’s up to these last few days to put a positive spin on the year.”