Robbie Short

The Yale women’s soccer team opened Ivy League play with what may be its stiffest test of the season — a match against defending conference champion Princeton, a team lying just outside the NCAA Top 25.

Despite entering the game as heavy underdogs, the Elis (4–3–3, 0–0–1 Ivy) battled to a hard-earned 1–1 draw on Saturday afternoon at Reese Stadium. The Bulldogs, led again by forward and two-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week Aerial Chavarin ’20, produced an inspired second-half performance to fight back from a 1–0 halftime deficit.

“The Princeton game was a whole different feeling [than non-conference games],” Chavarin said. “I knew this game was going to be an intense one based off of all the preparation we did the week before. Everyone on the field had a type of excited energy that inspired the drive and competitiveness to win.”

The Tigers (7–1–1, 0–0–1 Ivy) came into the match against Yale with an impressive start to the season, marred only by a 3–0 road defeat against then-No. 2 West Virginia. Princeton’s dangerous offense, which equaled Yale’s Ivy League-leading 17 goals scored in one fewer game, warranted a more conservative look from the Bulldogs.

The Elis started in a 3–5–2 formation, fielding three central defenders and two wing backs as opposed to a more traditional back four. Of the three center defenders — Carlin Hudson ’18, Kristina Kim ’18 and captain Colleen McCormack ’17 — Yale used two players to mark the explosive Princeton duo of two-time defending Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Lussi and defending Rookie of the Year Mimi Asom. The remaining defender was left free to contain Princeton’s long passing attempts.

Yale’s defensive stoutness forced the Tigers to play balls over the Bulldog defense, rather than short passes on the ground. Many of Princeton’s offensive possessions ended on the heads of the center backs or in the hands of goalkeeper Alyssa Fagel ’20.

“A lot of the success came from staying compact in the back and calling the wing backs back in to cover, so at times we were playing more like five in the back,” Hudson said.  “[We] knew that their game and success has been from balls over the top to their two forwards, and Lussi is especially elusive up top with her runs. We communicated more, were more aware of their runners and stayed very organized the whole game.”

Despite its sound defense shutting down the dangerous Princeton forwards for most of the game, Yale fell into a trap that has proved all too prevalent this season. For the seventh consecutive game, the Bulldogs conceded the opening goal, this time in the 19th minute. Princeton expertly worked a short corner, with midfielder Vanessa Gregoire curling in a ball behind the Bulldog backline. Tiger forward Abby Givens snuck behind the Eli defenders and just beat Fagel to the ball to head it into the open goal.

“We knew going into the game how dangerous Princeton could be off of set pieces [like the short corner play],” Fagel said. “After they scored off of one in the first half, a big part of our halftime talk was about the mental aspect of the game. Our team is great in the air and all we needed to do was stay 100 percent focused for the rest of the game in order to avoid another goal.”

The Bulldogs came out fired up for the second half and quickly began to create chances for an equalizer. Midfielder Fran Steele ’19 not only delivered some dangerous crosses from corner kicks but also forced Princeton goalkeeper Natalie Grossi into a solid save with a powerful free kick. Chavarin, the team’s top scorer, constantly proved to be a thorn in the sides of the Princeton backline. Her creative dribbling generated a number of opportunities that fell one pass short of a shot on goal. After 73 minutes, the Elis’ perseverance paid off as Chavarin finished a one-on-one breakaway with tremendous aplomb to tie the game at 1–1.

“[Midfielder Geneva Decker ’17] cleared the perfect ball from the back and the defender mishit the ball, so I stole it,” Chavarin said. “The only thing going through my mind was to do whatever it takes to win the game. I have been working on reading [one-on-one situations] with the keeper after practices, so I knew to touch the ball around the keeper in that situation because of the angle that I had.”

Despite having the better chances in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, the Bulldogs couldn’t find a way through the Princeton backline. Yale’s most promising opportunity, a low drive from Chavarin at the edge of the box, was saved at full stretch by Grossi.

However, the resilient draw against the defending Ivy League champion marks a strong start to Yale’s conference schedule.

“[Tying Princeton] was a great feeling and proved how much the team has come together since last season,” Steele said. “Although we were very happy with the result, the draw could have been a win for us, so we don’t want to settle for being happy with a draw. We had a lot of chances in the game so that gives us a lot of confidence going into the next Ivy game against Harvard.”

Yale has not emerged without defeat from its first two conference games since starting 2–0 in 2009.