Sarah Palin couldn’t have handled the arctic weather conditions better than Yale did on Tuesday night.
With temperatures below 40 and a pesky wind howling through Reese Stadium, the Bulldogs (8-5-2, 2-2-1 Ivy) showed resiliency and toughness in their double-overtime, 3-2 win against the Central Connecticut Blue Devils (9-6-4). Following a wet and windy game against Penn on Saturday, the CCSU contest was the second in a row in which the Elis battled not only a tough opponent, but also the cruelties of Mother Nature. Just how bad is playing in the cold?
“It sucks,” midfielder Leslie Perez ’10, who is a native of South Florida, said. “But once you get into the game and start running around a little bit, you don’t really feel it.”
Maybe it was fortunate that it was cold outside, because the Bulldogs started off the game running and pressured a talented Central Connecticut team that had beaten UConn and Fairfield — two teams that Yale lost to earlier in the year. Within the first six minutes, action took place almost exclusively on the Blue Devils’ half of the field and it seemed only a matter of time before the Elis would score.
But CCSU got a quick counter-attacking goal. That unfortunate turn of events seemed to deflate the Bulldogs, as they struggled to march their way downfield for the rest of the half. Any runs made by Yale were quickly cut off in the final third and the Bulldogs went into the locker rooms down a goal at halftime.
“It was really frustrating in the first half when they are up just because of one goal, even though we had been completely dominating play,” goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 said.
As the second half got underway, Yale still seemed to be pressing too much for the equalizer. A lack of patience in the final third led to a number of turnovers right before potential scoring opportunities, and head coach Rudy Meredith had to make a change.
“We came out with a 3-5-2 formation to match up against them in the midfield,” he said. “But in the middle of the second half, we switched to a 4-3-3 and put an extra attacker up front.”
That change worked miracles as minutes later, forward Becky Brown ’11 tapped in a pass from forward Maggie Westfal ’09 for the equalizer.
“With three strikers up there, we were finally able to get the ball wide,” Meredith explained. “Maggie [drew] out the keeper, and all Becky had to do from there was tap the ball into an open net.”
Barely three minutes later, defender Alana Gebhart ’12 connected on a long pass down the middle for Westfal, who ended up with a one-on-one opportunity with the goalie and easily put it away for the go-ahead goal.
But the scoring wasn’t over. The Blue Devils turned up the pressure and play took place almost exclusively on the Bulldogs’ side of the field. With five minutes to go, Central Connecticut’s offense exploded through the Elis’ defensive line to tie the game at two apiece.
“For some reason, when the clock’s winding down and we’re ahead, we always start to panic,” Perez said. “Everything gets hectic in the back when really, all we need to do is relax and play how we always play.”
After giving up a late goal that tied the game, Yale could’ve easily given up. But as a testament to the team’s increasing mental toughness, the women continued to attack. The Bulldogs put up a dominant display of vertical passing in the first overtime and constantly put pressure on the Blue Devils, keeping the ball on their end. Despite the pressure, the Elis were unable to get a golden goal to end the game.
“Going into overtime, I really just told them to be more direct with the ball and pin them down in their third,” Meredith said. “If we keep them pinned at their own end, we might not win, but at least they can’t score on us.”
Yale took that mentality into the second overtime, as the team kept up its heightened pressure. The aggressive play finally paid off as Westfal was eventually taken down inside the box, leading to a key penalty shot with barely three minutes left in the game. It was Yale’s first penalty shot of the season, and Meredith had gotten so frustrated with the Elis’ lack of penalty opportunities that he stopped drilling the shot in practice. Therefore, when the time to kick a potential game-winning penalty shot materialized, Meredith didn’t even know who would take it. Finally, defender Natalia Mann ’09 stepped up in the box and delivered a booming shot to the top corner of the goal.
The shot put the wrappings on a game where the Bulldogs seemed to come together as a team for the victory. It may be too little, too late for an Ivy title, but with two more conference games on the schedule, anything can happen.
“That’s the first game all season that we’ve come back against an opponent to win,” Meredith said. “We could’ve easily lost our momentum when they tied up the game, but we found a way to get the W and I’m extremely proud of the team tonight.”