When Emma Whitfield ’09 scored in the second half of the women’s soccer team’s trouncing of Cornell on Saturday, friends in the bleachers burst into a round of “Happy Birthday.” Such was the air of celebration at Reese Stadium this weekend as the Bulldogs squashed the Big Red 5-0 and moved up in the Ivy League standings.

Plagued by injuries and coming off a disappointing loss to Dartmouth last weekend, the Elis (7-5, 2-1 Ivy) could have started flat against Cornell (4-8, 0-3), one of three teams that beat Yale in its 2006 Ivy campaign. Instead the Bulldogs’ performance was anything but lackluster as they dominated the Big Red and proved they are still contenders for the Ancient Eight championship.

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“We knew this game was going to make or break our season in a way, because it was going to dictate whether we were still in the running for the Ivy League title,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “It was a huge boost of confidence and a great game to win.”

The Elis got off a to a quick start in the opening half, notching two goals in the first 10 minutes of play. Kuder led the way at 7:17 off a feed from Whitfield. Two minutes later, Maggie Westfal ’09 scored from point-blank range after Sophia Merrifield ’10 settled a loose ball in the box. Saturday’s match was the first time all season that the Bulldogs have scored within the first 10 minutes of a game — a significant feat for a squad that usually struggles to find its rhythm in the opening minutes.

The Elis took control in the second half, picking up three goals within a 15-minute span to put the game far out of the Big Red’s reach. Whitfield sparked the scoring deluge when she took on Cornell goalie Jodi Palmer in a one-on-one in the 63rd minute of the game. Two minutes later, Natalia Mann ’09 fired a picture-perfect penalty kick into the back of the net. Natalie Romine ’11 got into the scoring action in the 75th minute, providing the icing on the cake for the Bulldog victory.

“We took it to them and we made a statement by beating them 5-0,” Romine said. “Not many teams crush other teams by that kind of score.”

The five-goal margin of victory was the Bulldogs’ largest since October 2005 — a good sign for the Bulldog offense as they prepare to take on several key Ivy League opponents in the weeks ahead. A different player tallied each of the Elis’ five goals, with Westfal and Whitfield leading the way with a goal and an assist each.

Head coach Rudy Meredith said he stressed offense in the days leading up to the game, as the Bulldogs had struggled to finish in their 1-0 loss to Dartmouth last weekend.

“The intensity level was up [during practice this week],” Kuder said. “We worked a lot on shooting, on possession and supporting players and trying to get back to the basics of what it takes to win a soccer game. We were very focused. It was more our attitude that changed than the structure of practice, but it produced good results.”

The Eli defense did its job as well, shutting down Cornell rookie Lena Russomagno, who leads her team with six goals. Goalies Susie Starr ’08 and Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 combined for five saves and recorded the Bulldogs’ fourth shutout of the season.

The Elis now sit in third place in the Ancient Eight, behind league-leading Penn and Princeton, who both boast 3-0 records. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to steal the top spot next weekend when they face the Quakers on the road.