It may be only the midway point in the Ivy season, but this weekend could indicate how realistic an Ancient Eight title might be for the women’s soccer team.
The Elis (7-5, 2-1 Ivy) have an opportunity to knock off Penn (9-2-1, 3-0) on the road Saturday afternoon, a feat that would bring them one step closer to the coveted Ivy crown. Sitting just behind the Quakers and Princeton in the standings, the Bulldogs know that a win will keep them in the hunt but a loss will make it all but impossible for them to finish atop the standings. No team has ever won the Ivy League with more than one loss.
“Princeton, Penn and [Yale] all control our own destinies in the league,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Whichever one of us wins out will win the league. If you’re a player, these are the type of weekends that you want … these are the type of weekends you get pumped up for.”
When the Bulldogs and the Quakers met in New Haven last year, Yale was already out of the race for the Ivy League title, having dropped games to Cornell and Dartmouth. Even so, the Elis dominated both regulation and overtime, outshooting Penn 19-9. But they could not convert any of their chances, and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
This time around, however, the Elis are in a much better position. They are coming off of a 5-0 blowout against Cornell, their best offensive output of the season and their fourth shutout. Maggie Westfal ’09, Emma Whitfield ’09, Natalia Mann ’09, Natalie Romine ’11 and captain Mary Kuder ’08 each contributed a goal to the winning effort at Reese Stadium.
“Five different people scored,” Kuder said. “That’s always great, because Penn is going to look at us and they’re not going to know who to mark. They can’t just shut down one player, because we have many players who can score and assist. That’s really going to be helpful over the next few weeks.”
But the Bulldogs will also have to focus more on their defense — offense was the team’s main emphasis against the Big Red — to counter the potent Penn attack, Meredith said. The Quakers average 2.21 goals per game this season and have scored as many as six goals in a single game. Sophomore forward Jessica Fuccello leads the squad with eight goals and two assists.
“This has been one of the better Penn teams in a few years,” Fuccello said. “They have been winning a lot of games and scoring a lot of goals. Their strength has been attacking, and they’ve been able to get it done on offense. Our first thing has to be our defense. We have to try to shut them down.”
If there is one thing that the squad proved with last week’s trouncing of Cornell, it is that when the Bulldogs step up the intensity, they can dominate on both sides of the ball. This weekend, they have the chance to show the rest of the conference that they have what it takes to be a frontrunner.
“I think we’re ready to face anyone,” Romine said after the Big Red victory. “We’ve been working hard at practice, and we really want to win the Ivy League.