Though the leaks have been temporarily plugged and the boat remains afloat, a massive typhoon is quickly approaching the Yale women’s soccer team.
With only one game remaining before kicking off the Ivy League season, the Bulldogs (4–2–2, 0–0 Ivy) finally ended their September slide with a heart-stopping 2–1 victory over Hartford (5–3, 0–0 America East) on Thursday night. An 87th-minute goal from midfielder Sarah McCauley ’18 — Yale’s eighth in the final 15 minutes of games this season — gave the Bulldogs their first win since they defeated Stony Brook on Aug. 31. The Elis move on to face Creighton (4–1–2, 0–0 Big East), their final nonconference opponent of the 2016 season, on Sunday.
“We were just ecstatic to get the lead again,” captain and defender Colleen McCormack ’17 said. “We haven’t had a win in a while, so we were really going for the W. We don’t like to go into overtime. When we get to the last five minutes, we try to put it away.”
Opportunities were aplenty for the Bulldogs in the opening period of play, but they had difficulty capitalizing. The first great chance came as early as the fourth minute, when forward Aerial Chavarin ’20 laid a beautiful pass into the middle of the box for midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19. Cavallo attempted to finesse the ball into the right side of the goal, but Hartford goalie Jessica Jurg made a diving save to keep the score equal.
Yale took four more shots, and Hartford just one, before the Hawks took the lead in the 32nd minute. Hartford midfielder Skylar Vitiello cannoned a long-range shot on goal, which bounced vertically off the fingertips of Yale goalkeeper Alyssa Fagel ’20. The ball smashed the crossbar and bounced softly into the back of the net, putting Hartford up by a surprising 1–0 margin on what was its second and final shot of the half.
However, the Bulldogs almost instantaneously responded. Just one minute later, McCauley kicked a through ball towards Chavarin, who quickly recorded her team-leading fifth goal of the season to equalize the match.
“After they scored, it woke us up,” Chavarin said. “It really changed the energy on the field. Sarah McCauley had the ball. I noticed that she put her head down and made a beautiful chip. I was able to get it and put it past the keeper.”
Coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Elis looked flat and were mostly unable to create any offensive momentum. In the 57th minute, midfielder Geneva Decker ’17 was called offsides on what was the best chance the Bulldogs had seen to that point. As the clocked ticked into the final third of the game, Hartford kept a stranglehold on possession, forcing the Yale defense to step up. The Hawks clearly turned up the heat, taking shot after shot, challenging second-half keeper Jane Buckley ’20 constantly. With five minutes remaining, it seemed that to even escape with a draw might be a small victory in itself.
In the 87th minute, the Bulldogs received a final opportunity in the form of a corner kick. Midfielder Kristi Wharton ’20 launched her kick into the box right to the waiting head of McCauley, and the ball sailed passed Jurg’s outstretched arms to put the Bulldogs up by the final 2–1 margin. McCauley’s goal marked the third game of the season in which Yale took the lead or knotted the score in the final five minutes.
“I think the character of the team is a little different than last year,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Last year, when we got scored upon, we were playing the blame game. But now it’s just, ‘Let’s not blame each other. Let’s get the goal back.’”
The defensive front has continued its strong showing this season, mostly keeping opposing teams away from the net. For the sixth time in eight attempts, the Elis held their opponents to one goal or fewer.
“I think [the defense] played amazingly as always,” defender Noelle Higginson ’20 said. “Our defense is always pretty rock solid. Obviously there were some errors, but that’s to be expected. We deal with them, and we move on.”
On Sunday, the Elis will face off against a streaking Creighton team that has not lost since a 3–1 defeat against Iowa State in late August. A week after the Bulldogs’ matchup with the Bluejays, the toughest test of the season arrives at Reese Stadium: Princeton.
Last year’s Ancient Eight champions have begun the season 6–0 and are beginning to receive some national media hype, receiving three votes in the most recent NSCAA Coaches Poll. To take down the clear conference favorites, the Bulldogs must find a way to eliminate mistakes and evade opposing keepers.
“We’re definitely trying to use Creighton to prepare for Princeton,” McCormack said. “We’re adjusting our formation to see what’s best, because Princeton is definitely our toughest game of the season. We need to make sure we don’t give up the first goal.”
Thursday’s game was Yale’s first win after giving up the first goal. The Bulldogs are now 1–2–2 when opponents draw first blood.