On Saturday afternoon, the women’s soccer team had an opportunity to establish itself as a bona fide Ivy League championship contender against Harvard, the conference favorite. But the team could not overcome Harvard at Reese Stadium, falling by a score of 3–1. A chance to bounce back on Monday against Central Connecticut State was halted by inclement weather that resulted in the postponement of the match.
In the meeting of rivals on Saturday, Yale (5–4–0, 1–1–0 Ivy) spoiled any chance it had at its first 2–0 Ivy League start since 2009. Harvard (6–3–1, 2–0–0 Ivy) jumped out ahead in the first half with a pair of goals separated by less than two minutes.
The Bulldogs simply found themselves overmatched and outplayed. Head coach Rudy Meredith said he feels as though this Harvard team might be a special one.
“That’s the best Harvard team I’ve seen in about six years,” Meredith said. “I think they can run the table. There are no weaknesses on their team.”
In the 32nd minute, Crimson defender Marie Margolius squeaked a header inside the near post past goalkeeper Rachel Ames ’16 off a corner kick from midfielder Peyton Johnson. Harvard struck again in the 34th minute behind a strike from forward Karly Zlatic, who streaked down the middle of the field before finding the back of the net.
At halftime, Meredith elected to replace Ames with Elise Wilcox ’15, and also chose to move defender Meredith Speck ’15 up front to play on the offensive side of the ball. The move was similar to the one that resulted in Speck assisting on the game-winning goal at Princeton in overtime two Saturdays ago.
As has been the case much of the season, the Bulldogs came out of halftime looking rejuvenated, primed to play a much more productive second half. Forward Melissa Gavin ’15 recognizes that playing 90 minutes, rather than just 45, at full effort could be the difference between a championship and just another season.
“We tend to be complacent in the first half and think we have a lot of time to make things happen,” Gavin said. “But if we play with more urgency from the start of the game I think we will be fine.”
It was Gavin herself who scored on a spectacular corner kick in the 57th minute, curving the ball past Harvard goalkeeper Lizzie Durack without a single touch from any other player. The goal quite clearly shifted the momentum of the game as the Bulldog faithful in attendance got noticeably louder, and Yale’s play on the pitch improved dramatically.
For Gavin, it was her seventh goal of the season, which is the most in the Ivy League thus far.
“I knew the sun was in the goalie’s face,” Gavin said, “so I took my chances and tried to curl it on top of her and luckily enough she tipped it in.”
The Bulldogs continued to attack, finishing with twice as many shots in the second half as they produced in the first. They also went from allowing 10 Harvard shots in the first half to limiting the Crimson to just five in the second. However, an equalizer was not in the works for Yale.
Instead, Harvard freshman sensation Margaret Purce extinguished any hope of a Yale comeback with a beautiful strike in the 84th minute, scoring after weaving directly through the Yale defense. It was the forward’s sixth goal of the season and left Meredith with no doubt as to the identity of the best player in the Ivy League.
“She’s the best player in the league, no question — and we had no answer for her,” Meredith said. “She’s clearly better than all the players we have.”
Eli captain and defender Shannon McSweeney ’14, who entered the game at less than full-strength due to a nagging injury, was aware of the game’s implications for the Ivy League standings.
McSweeney regretted the fact that the Elis would not have the opportunity to seek revenge against Harvard this year.
“The unfortunate thing is you play each Ivy team once so you only get one shot,” she said. “This cannot be redone but they still have five more games and we have five more games so there’s plenty of time for us to turn things around.”
McSweeney was ready to play on Monday when the Bulldogs were scheduled to take on in-state foe Central Connecticut State (3–7–0, 1–0–0 NEC). She saw the game as a great opportunity for a confidence boost heading into Saturday’s home matchup against Dartmouth (4–1–1, 1–1–0 Ivy).
However, Mother Nature had other plans in mind, as Monday night’s tilt was postponed due to the threat of severe weather. The date of the make-up match has not yet been determined.
As much as a win would have provided a morale boost heading into the weekend, the postponement and consequential extra day of rest may have been a blessing in disguise for the Elis.
“We had a few players who were pretty banged up,” Meredith said. “We were going to be like the walking wounded out there so I guess Mother Nature liked me today.”
Yale can now turn their full attention to Dartmouth, as the Bulldogs will host the Big Green on Saturday afternoon.
Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. at Reese Stadium.