Robbie Short

Despite a fall to the bottom of the Ivy League standings, the Yale women’s soccer team’s 2015 season did not end without a bright spot — over the past few months, the Bulldogs discovered the fountain of youth as the freshman class led the Elis in nearly every statistical category.

Yale’s eight newcomers made 76 starts out of a potential 128, scored 15 of the team’s 18 goals and notched 11 of the team’s 18 assists. The performance of the Eli class of 2019, which amateur soccer website Top Drawer Soccer rated as the 12th best recruiting class in the country last May, bodes well for Yale’s future.

“Nearly all of our goal-scorers from this season are returning for the next, which is great,” head coach Rudy Meredith said.

Yale’s freshmen had large shoes to fill after last year, when Yale battled its way to a third-place finish in the Ivy League — its best result since 2011. Five out of the seven graduating seniors from the class of 2015 started in a minimum 11 of 17 games, and multiple Elis racked up post-season honors: goalkeeper Elise Wilcox ’15 was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, defender Muriel Battaglia ’15 earned a first-team All-Ivy selection alongside midfielder Meredith Speck ’15 — her third consecutive appearance on the first team — and forward Melissa Gavin ’15 was named to the All-Ivy second team.

After those seniors’ graduation, the void left Meredith with the heavy task of replacing such an accomplished class. After the early honor from Top Drawer Soccer, Meredith’s freshmen quickly made an impact when the beginning of the season on Aug. 28 came around. When the announcer called out the players for Yale in its opener against Arkansas, five freshmen received spots in the starting lineup.

“We had high expectations coming in, they were talking about our freshman class,” midfielder Sofia Griff ’19 said. “We had a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure on us to do all of these great things.”

Sixteen games later, those freshmen look back on achievements not just by virtue of getting on the field early and often, but because of their performance once in the game.

Forward Michelle Alozie ’19 and fellow rookie Griff matched each other exactly as the top offensive performers for Yale, tying for fifth in the Ivy League with 16 points each and seventh in the conference with six goals apiece. Alozie added Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors during the third and fourth weeks of the season, and midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19 was given the same award on Week 8 after scoring her first career goal in Yale’s 1–0 win Dartmouth — the Elis’ lone Ivy victory.

The freshman standouts were a highlight of an otherwise disappointing season for Yale. The Bulldogs finished the season with records of 4–10–2 overall and 1–6–0 in-conference, marking the first time in 30 years that Yale finished last in the Ivy League.

“It was a rough season, obviously,” Alozie said. “I think at the beginning we did not play that well together, because we were a new team and mostly freshmen started.”

With just two graduating seniors in goalkeeper Rachel Ames ’16 and captain and defender Ally Grossman ’16, members of the team noted a positive outlook for next season.

To fill their shoes, goalkeeper Maritza Grillo ’19, the only other netminder currently on Yale’s roster, may see time inside the 18-yard line next season. Ames added that defender Carlin Hudson ’18, who suffered an early season-ending injury, will likely return as center back, Grossman’s past position.

“I think it’s really good that a lot of the freshmen played,” Ames said. “A lot of them played a majority of the time, so next year they know what to expect. Of course the freshmen went in with the talent and skill that they needed, but it’s a whole different thing seeing them progress with experience, on the bench and on the field.”

Meredith added that his eight freshmen improved significantly throughout the Ivy League season, and that he expects continued improvement from the team as it looks toward next season.

With plenty of talent returning, the 21-year Yale veteran coach holds heightened expectations after the last-place finish in 2015.

“We could all do better, offensively and defensively,” Meredith said. “Everybody should be improving in the program.”

The eight freshmen hail from two countries — England and the United States — and three states — California, New York and Florida.

André Monteiro contributed reporting.