Having already matched last season’s four-win total, the Yale women’s soccer team enters Ivy League play on Saturday afternoon against Princeton looking to bounce back from its cellar-dwelling position a year ago.
The Bulldogs (4–3–2, 0–0–0 Ivy) have started strong thus far against a difficult nonconference slate featuring two major conference opponents, but hit a bump in the road in their most recent game against Creighton, a 4–2 defeat. Yale conceded early and, after roaring back to seize the lead, committed a couple defensive miscues that an experienced Creighton team ruthlessly exploited. The Bluejays provided a good litmus test for a Yale team that seeks to go toe-to-toe with a Princeton team that has made noise on the national stage this year after last season’s run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“[We’re] solid in the back but have momentary lapses that better teams continuously take advantage of,” defender Carlin Hudson ’18 said. “We’re going to need to be 100 percent focused the whole game and communicate constantly in order to stay as organized as possible and give us a chance to take the lead instead of chase the game.”
Head coach Rudy Meredith also emphasized the importance of not conceding early goals that put the team in a difficult hole.
The Tigers pose the toughest test so far for the Elis this year. Princeton (7–1–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) opened its season with six consecutive victories before suffering its only blemish in Morgantown against then-No. 2 West Virginia. Aside from that away defeat against one of the nation’s elite programs, the Tigers have been dominant, scoring 17 goals and conceding just four in their seven victories this year.
The reigning Ivy League champions will prove a high hurdle to clear for a Yale team that the Tigers tamed 3–0 last year.
“In Ivy League games, the intensity level goes up 200 percent,” Meredith said. “All the teams are at a similar level. Princeton is a top-20 team, so that gives us more motivation going into the game.”
The Bulldogs enter this game with much more confidence than last year, boosted by their winning record, and they hope to significantly improve on last year’s result.
Should Yale do so, it would be the first time the Elis topped the Tigers since a dramatic 3–2 overtime victory in 2013.
“This season has seen a tremendous change from last year,” midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19 said. “Everyone is far more confident in themselves and one another, creating a positive mentality … It is imperative that we are playing at our best each Ivy League game. ”
Perhaps the most dramatic change has been on Yale’s offensive end. Creating goals has not been a problem this year for the Bulldogs, who have chalked up 17 in their nine games, one fewer than they managed in 16 games in 2015.
Forward Aerial Chavarin ’20 leads the team with six goals, while three more players have chipped in three goals apiece.
The backline has been solid as well, keeping two clean sheets already this season. Nevertheless, a question mark remains at goalkeeper, after Jane Buckley ’20 started off shakily on Saturday before leaving the game with an injury. Meredith said he will not name a starter until he has a better idea of Buckley’s health and availability for the match. Keepers Alyssa Fagel ’20 and Maritza Grillo ’19 have also seen action in net. Fagel has seen the most playing time of the three, having tallied 361 minutes to Buckley’s 354.
Whoever starts in goal for Yale will have to deal with a dynamic Princeton forward line, spearheaded by two-time defending Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Lussi and last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mimi Asom. The pair combined for 27 goals last year, two of those against Yale, and are off to a blistering start this year as well with 11.
The dynamic duo figures to test a Yale backline that will look to iron out occasional lapses that have hurt otherwise solid performances this season.
“[Princeton is] a very good team and have a couple of star players, so while we have to shut down those specific players, we’re going to have to beat an overall great team,” Hudson said.
Despite the Tigers’ talent, the Elis intend to play true to their identity. The Bulldogs have matured since the two sides met a year ago, and have circled this game on their collective calendars.
“We have put in a lot of hard work, particularly in the offseason, to make sure we go into this weekend’s game fully prepared and in the right mindset,” Grillo said. “[We have] particularly focused on enforcing Yale’s style of play onto other teams instead of conforming to theirs.”
Yale plays Princeton at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Reese Stadium.