Slow out of the gate. Resilient in the middle. Resounding by the final whistle.

Such phrases are just as apt to describe Saturday’s season finale as they are to wrap up Yale women’s lacrosse’s entire 2006 season.

No. 13 Cornell (10-2, 5-1 Ivy) came screaming into the first half with their Ivy survival on the line, opening up with a menacing barrage of shots that began to fall as halftime approached. Visiting Yale (9-7, 3-4) rebounded from the 5-0 deficit with a classic comeback as the clock ticked off the final minutes of its 2006 campaign, but came up just short in the tantalizingly close 9-7 final.

Saturday’s final score mirrors the final record of 9-7 for this season, hardly shabby considering expectations at the beginning of the year.

“Clearly this was kind of an up-and-down season,” midfielder Lindsay Levin ’07 said. “People were saying that this was a rebuilding year. But every game we went into, we went into thinking we could win, and it showed against Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell.”

On March 25, the Elis were suddenly surprise victors over then-No. 13 Dartmouth and the newest dark horses on the Ancient Eight circuit. That, along with tight yet convincing losses to the Tigers and the Big Red yesterday, who, along with Dartmouth, are the only players left in the Ivy race this year, lead star middie Kat Peetz ’08 to expect big things next year.

“A game like today just says we’re a young team, but a young team that’s able to come back from a large margin,” Peetz said. “For us, it will just be a matter of putting it all together.”

But the Elis looked as if they had fallen back to square one in the first half at Ithaca.

The squad had come a long way from an early-season habit of slow starts, but a relapse seemed imminent when it could not get on the board in the first thirty minutes of Saturday’s affair. Cornell only held a 1-0 lead at 7:57, but it was then that a Katherine Simmons free position shot eluded Yale goalie Ellen Cameron ’08, effectively opening the floodgates for a four-goal Big Red run before halftime.

“Our problems were definitely on the offensive end,” Peetz said. “We saw that Cornell was weak on defense, and in the half we decided to change our strategy a bit to exploit their system. The defense was always solid, coming up with a lot of great saves and checks, it was just that we had trouble moving the ball around on attack.”

A sense of mortality pervaded the halftime break. Regardless of the outcome, the Elis knew they had 30 minutes left of their season and could determine their legacy with their second-half play.

“We just realized that at that point we had absolutely nothing to lose,” captain Sarah Scalia ’06 said. “We’re going to leave everything on the field, just get on the go and attack their defense in the second.”

It did not take long for the Bulldogs to break through.

Peetz beat vaunted Cornell goalie Maggie Fava twice in the first two minutes after the break, and midfielder Taylor Fragapane ’09 followed up with her own offering at the 24:17 to go. All of a sudden, Yale had a battle on its hands.

But a two-goal deficit would be as close as the visitors would come. The two teams switched off goals over the next 15 minutes, with Cornell holding a 9-5 lead at the five-minute mark. With images of Dartmouth recalled, Warden led one last valiant run, depositing two final scores as the season ran out on the Elis. But the Big Red clung on, and, with No. 14 Dartmouth, stunning a favored Princeton squad several hundred miles south, are one of the final teams standing in what figures to a three-horse photo finish.

“We came out and got fired up with a few draw controls,” she said. “We knew the first half was not the way we wanted to end our season. And the second half just showed how much our defense has learned to play with each other, feeding into the middle of the [Cornell] eight, sliding, helping each other. We covered all of them pretty well up the middle.”

Saturday’s game was the last for an unusually small graduating class of four seniors. Scalia, wrapping up her Yale career along with Lonnie Sarnell ’06, Caroline Edsall ’06 and Carli Vogler ’06, was reflective as the bus returned through the rain-soaked woods of upstate New York.

“With four years of experience, of course I’m going miss it, and I’m just so glad that I did it,” she said. “But I’m so excited for the underclassmen. We improved a lot this year and graduated only four seniors, and next year they’ll have more big game experience and confidence.”