Senior captain Sophia Merrifield ’10 wanted to go out on a high note.
And the women’s soccer team made that happen Saturday, edging Brown (5–9–1, 2–5 Ivy) 1–0 to win Yale’s final Ivy competition of the season on Senior Night at Reese Stadium.
“When I wrote a team e-mail before [the game], I just said I wanted to end this season with an exclamation point,” Merrifield said. “I’m just so happy that Leslie [Perez ’10], Hannah [Smith ’10], Caitlin [Collins ’10] and I were able to go out on a win.”
Forward Becky Brown ’11 put the Elis ahead early when she one-touched a feed from forward Kristen Forster ’13 into the bottom right of the net, and the Bulldogs (10–6, 5–2) held onto that lead for the rest of the match.
Just as the competition ended, news came from New York that Columbia and Harvard were tied 1–1 and headed into overtime, keeping alive Eli hopes of sharing a title with the Crimson. But Harvard scored in the 96th minute to claim sole possession of the conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said losing the crown was disappointing, but he added that his team has come a long way from last year, when the Bulldogs finished the season 2–4–1 in the conference — tied with Dartmouth for sixth place.
“Obviously you always want to be in first,” Meredith said. “But I guess you want to take something positive from the season, and that would be turning it around from last year.”
The Elis also continued to compete strongly throughout the season despite numerous injuries.
“I think the one word I would use to describe this team is resilient,” said Merrifield, who played 76 minutes Saturday despite badly injuring her ankle in practice on the previous Thursday. “I think we’ve all had to fight through some sort of adversity — whether injury or illness or just juggling school and soccer — and I’m really proud of how we were positive with each other.”
The Bulldogs and Bears appeared well-matched in the weekend contest, and the first 10 minutes of the match were filled with fast-paced play.
But Forster changed things in the 12th minute, dribbling through the entire midfield and around several defenders to set up the Elis’ goal. Brown was open on the left to put the shot away from point-blank range.
Brown has notched 13 goals this season, which ties the school record for the fourth most goals scored in a single season. Forster also collected her ninth assist and tied Crysti Howser ’09 for Yale’s single-season freshman assist record.
“It’s been great to be able to contribute with everyone working so hard,” Forster said. “Our seniors have just been supportive and worked so hard, so they really deserved this win.”
The Bears seemed to regroup after Yale took the 1–0 lead, raising the intensity of their play and outshooting the Elis, 6–5, by the end of the half.
Brown midfielder Gina Walker gave the Bears a particularly dangerous opportunity in the 24th minute when she blasted a shot at the upper edge of the net, but goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 leaped to clear the ball.
Brown came close to scoring again minutes later, but Sumiyasu dived into the scramble in front of the goal, and the Bears’ shot went wide.
Yale finally rallied and almost made its lead 2–0 at 33:15. Forward Miyuki Hino ’12 lofted a shot toward the upper left corner of the net, but Brown’s goalkeeper Brenna Hogue jumped to hit the ball over the top.
The Elis took control after the halftime restart and repeatedly threatened the opposing squad’s goal, but still remained unable to score during the second period.
“I think throughout the game we were looking to score a second goal,” Merrifield said. “We knew that we were going to have to capitalize on any chance we had.”
Forster and Brown looked like they might capitalize on another combination play midway through the half, but Hogue raced out of net to clear the danger. The junior forward got a shot off at 69:17, but it was again blocked by Hogue.
The Bears had a final chance with less than 10 minutes left. They took a free kick from about 25 yards out, but Sumiyasu grabbed the ball from the jumble in front of the net.
The Elis outshot Brown 8–0 in the second half, and recorded a 4–0 advantage in corners.
“I just was very proud of our kids’ effort today,” Meredith said. “There is nothing we can do about Harvard and stuff, but all we could do was take care of beating Brown and we did that.”
The seniors were honored before the 7 p.m. kickoff for their final regular-season match.
All in all, Merrifield said the season ended positively.
“It’s hard when you want to win so badly, but if I step back, I am amongst a group of girls that are confident, that are kindhearted and that love the game of soccer,” Merrifield said. “I think that is a great measure of success.”