The women’s soccer team is hoping to head down a familiar path this season, and they took a step in the right direction on Saturday.

In 2005, the Bulldogs (5-4, 1-0 Ivy) topped Harvard 2-1 in overtime in New Haven. They then went on to win the Ivy League that year and make an unprecedented run in the NCAA Tournament. This weekend, the squad made the same crucial first stride, besting its historic rival in a 2-1 overtime thriller at Reese Stadium.

Although it is far too early to begin talk of the Ivy League crown, the Elis nonetheless made a strong statement in their conference opener this weekend with a victory over the Crimson (5-3-1, 0-1). Both squads entered the match riding a winning streak of at least three consecutive shutouts, but the Bulldogs found ways to generate enough offense to come out on top and preserve their momentum as the Ivy season gets underway. Players said the determination that fueled their win could be a good indication of success down the road.

“Winning our first Ivy League game was a huge step for us, because now we don’t have to play catch-up against all the other teams,” defender Jacqueline Gantes ’10 said. “It was especially big since Harvard was one of the preseason favorites in the Ivy League. To grab that win was definitely a huge confidence booster.”

After a scoreless opening half, the Bulldogs came out with an aggressive attack in the beginning of the second period. They kept up the pressure until forward Caitlin Collins ’10 finally broke through for her first goal of the season off a feed from Maggie Westfal ’09 at 48:30. But the Elis only held on to the lead for a few minutes, as Harvard’s Rachel Lau fired a perfect shot that sailed just above the reach of goalie Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 at 56:04 to even the score.

After the Cantabs got the equalizer, both sides settled down and continued a back-and-forth battle until the end of regulation. Head Coach Rudy Meredith said that he was pleased with how the team continued to play hard and keep a positive attitude after Harvard’s goal, which shattered Yale’s three-game streak of shutouts.

“We could have gotten down after Harvard scored, but we kept fighting and fighting,” Meredith said.

The pace quickened again in overtime, as the Bulldogs scored just over three minutes into the extra period. Kate Macauley ’11 found Westfal just inside the box and Westfal put the ball past Harvard goalie Lauren Mann – who has recorded five shutouts in the 2007 season – to end the game. The goal is Westfal’s team-leading fifth of the season and, along with Tuesday’s gamewinner against Boston University, helped earn her Ivy League Player of the Week honors.

But Westfal was not the only one who turned in a noteworthy performance, as the Elis shined on both sides of the pitch during the game. The Yale offense outshot the Crimson 23-12 for the night and was the first to score on Mann since Sept. 9. The Eli defenders kept freshman phenom Katherine Sheeleigh scoreless for the first time in three games. And goalie Susie Starr ’08 was named to the Ivy League Honor Roll for her league-leading goals against average and save percentage. She has not given up a goal since the Bulldogs faced No. 7 North Carolina at the beginning of September and she recorded three saves Saturday night.

This weekend marked the end of a stretch that captain Mary Kuder ’08 said was crucial to the Bulldogs’ season, as they topped four straight opponents — Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State University, Boston University and the Cantabs. But the squad still has a tough week ahead of them – they will host Quinnipiac (7-1) on Wednesday night and Dartmouth (2-7, 0-1) on Saturday.