Tuesday night’s soccer match was exactly the change of pace the Bulldogs needed.
The 1–0 win over Quinnipiac ended a three-game slump for the Yale women’s soccer team in a match that tested both squads’ ability to perform under pressure and maintain a fast-paced contest.
Captain and defender Sophia Merrifield ’10 said Tuesday’s turnaround was critical with the opening Ivy League game just days away.
“I think it is really good that we won this game,” Merrifield said. “It’s good for our confidence. We have a lot of injuries right now, but we are all really excited to go into conference play.”
Head coach Rudy Meredith also felt the match gave the Bulldogs a reassuring boost after three consecutive losses, noting his players committed fewer errors when pressured by Quinnipiac than they had when challenged by past opponents.
“I thought it was a very evenly matched game,” Meredith said. “I give Quinnipiac a lot of credit … They came out and they fought hard.”
The tight, physical battle between Yale and Quinnipiac certainly could have been anyone’s game throughout the 90 minutes of play.
Merrifield got the game off to a quick start when she took a header-shot just four minutes into play, forcing Quinnipiac goalkeeper Kendra Margulies to make an early save.
Yale had two more close attempts on net with back-to-back corner kicks about 25 minutes into the game, but aggressive Bobcat defenders repeatedly prevented the Bulldogs from scoring.
Minutes later, Quinnipiac’s Furtuna Velaj broke through a line of three Yale defenders and fired off a hard shot at the center of the net, but goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 knocked the ball just above the goal.
Merrifield noted that Velaj — who had five shots during the game and sent numerous crosses that Yale barely defended — is a particularly dangerous offender.
“She’s a really strong attacking player, and she is the one who was crossing the ball,” Merrifield said. “I would say we were lucky that no one got on the end of them.”
The Bulldogs had several close chances of their own. Shortly after Velaj’s shot, forward Leslie Perez ’10 led a Yale counterattack, but her ball to forward Becky Brown ’11 was blocked by Quinnipiac defenders and Brown’s shot went wide. Margulies saved another attempt by midfielder Enma Mullo ’12.
“They played really physically, so we had to just get the ball and get rid of it in a few touches,” forward Kristen Forster ’13 said. “I think we did it well at times, and we handled their physical play to the best of our abilities. We had a lot of chances.”
By the 43rd minute of play, Yale led Quinnipiac in shots, 7–3, yet remained unable to score.
But the Bulldogs finally capitalized on an opportunity with seconds remaining in the first half when Brown sent a quick cross to forward Mary Kubiuk ’13, who blasted the ball past Margulies from the right corner of the net to score her first career goal for Yale.
“It’s exciting to be able to just contribute to the team and to make an impact on the game,” Kubiuk said.
The half closed with Yale leading 1–0 and remaining unscathed from the aggressive competition. Quinnipiac tallied seven fouls during the first period, while Yale incurred only two.
Both the Bobcats and Bulldogs kept up their intensity when play resumed — Quinnipiac within striking distance, Yale clinging to a single-point lead — but neither side seemed able to find the back of the net.
Quinnipiac kept the ball in the offensive third for several minutes and took three shots in rapid succession. An attempt by Velaj came close to scoring in the 56th minute, but Sumiyasu made a diving save to clear the danger.
For the rest of the half, the ball traveled from end to end as the evenly matched teams battled for control until time ran out and Yale clinched the victory.
The Bulldogs also emerged relatively intact from the highly physical play — a crucial factor for the already injury-riddled team as they head into the weekend’s conference-opener against Princeton on Saturday at 5 p.m.