The women’s soccer team could have folded after a tough loss at UConn on Friday night but instead came out with energy and passion against St. John’s in front of a home crowd yesterday.
The Elis (1-1, 0-0 Ivy) lost an overtime thriller against UConn (3-3) by a score of 2-1 but defeated St. John’s (3-1) with a second half goal two days later.
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In terms of time of possession and shots on goal, UConn’s win over the Elis would seem on paper a routine drudging by a powerhouse team against an Ivy offering. But the narrow victory in extra minutes provided more drama than might have been expected at the outset.
Head coach Rudy Meredith had said withstanding the UConn push in the opening 15 minutes would be key to the game, and indeed, he was prophetic in his words. The first 15 minutes featured a slew of UConn scoring opportunities, with six shots on goal in that opening span alone.
The Huskies outshot the Bulldogs 31-6 on the game.
But the Yale women withstood the push with a strong performance from goalie Ayana Sumiyasu ’11, who finished with 14 saves.
With the first-game jitters out of the way, the Elis started counter-attacking and matched UConn’s first half intensity.
Barely 10 minutes into the second half, standout Becky Brown ’11 took a header from captain Emma Whitfield ’09 and motored away from the UConn defenders to blast a goal for the Elis, giving Yale a 1-0 lead.
The Elis kept up the pressure, looking to pull off an improbable upset. But, with one second left on the clock, UConn drew a handball foul from the Elis and managed to score on the ensuing free kick.
In overtime, the more game-experienced UConn squad — which had already played four games coming into Friday’s contest — pulled away from the Elis, posting a 7-1 shot advantage and eventually scoring in the second overtime.
“It was a tough game to handle, but we were really happy with our first-game effort,” said defender Hayley Zevenbergen ’09.
Meredith applauded the women’s resolve.
“It was our first game of the season and we fought hard all the way to the end of the game,” he said.
“We never gave up and I’m proud of our efforts.”
With barely a day to breathe, the Elis then suited up Sunday afternoon to face an undefeated St. John’s squad on the cusp of breaking into the national top 25.
“I was really worried about us mentally and physically with the turnaround,” Meredith said. “But give the kids all the credit in the world, they came back and gave a great performance.”
From the opening kickoff, Yale came out with energy, passing with crispness and limiting St. John’s mainly to midfield play. That hustle led to a 5-3 shot advantage at the half, but did not yield a goal.
Displaying resiliency, the Elis came back in the second half with the same attitude, repeatedly putting pressure on St. Johns’ defenders with aggressive tackling and team speed.
As the game wound down, the crowd became increasingly vocal, “oohing” and “aahing” with every scoring opportunity. Finally, the Elis broke through as Zevenbergen scored in the 84th minute, deflecting in a Maggie Westfal ’09 corner kick for the goal.
“I’m just coming back from injury, so to come out and score that game-winning goal was awesome,” Zevenbergen said.
St. John’s tried to mount a comeback, but Yale tightened up the defense and got its first win of the season, 1-0.
“There was a huge improvement in our play just from the UConn game to the St. John’s game,” Zevenbergen said. “If we can continue that kind of improvement and keep playing well as a team, there’s no telling how good we could be.”