As the 2016 season marches on, the Yale women’s soccer team has learned firsthand that there is no rest for the weary. After a month in which they played seven games — and just one week after a hard-fought contest with one of the best teams in the country — the Elis hit the road to face yet another foreboding opponent.
Last Saturday, the Bulldogs (4–3–3, 0-–0–1 Ivy) managed an impressive 1–1 draw against Princeton (7–1–1, 0–0–1), the defending Ivy League champion and the early-season favorite to claim the conference title. This Saturday, Yale will travel north to Cambridge to take on rival Harvard (6–3–0, 1–0–0) in a battle to claim control over a newly wide-open Ancient Eight.
“I think our league this year is totally up in the air, and anyone can win it,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “This year more than other years, there is a lot of parity in our conference. I think that there are five or six teams that have a chance to win, and I’d put us in those five or six teams. This is a big game [against Harvard].”
Last weekend’s tie against Princeton showed both the talent of the Bulldogs and the weaknesses of the Tigers and generated debate over who will capture the 2016 title.
Princeton entered the matchup with only a single blemish on its record — a loss to then-No. 2 West Virginia. Yale, meanwhile, was finishing an uninspiring September slew during which the team went 1–3–2. Yet when the final whistle blew in Reese Stadium after two overtime periods, the Bulldogs had put to rest worries of a repeat of 2015’s miserable 1–6 Ivy record.
Still, the next team on the slate is no easy opponent. Harvard is tied with Dartmouth for the second-best overall record in the conference, and the Elis will need to play their best soccer of the season for a second consecutive week if they are to emerge victorious.
“Our game plan going in [against Harvard] is basically the same as it was against Princeton, who also had a strong offense,” defender Noelle Higginson ’20 said. “Our wide [defenders] will have to stay back a little bit more; that’s what we did against Princeton, and it worked. If we do that and score some goals, I think we’ll be fine.”
Over its past four contests — all wins — Harvard has scored nine goals and given up only two. Over the same period, Yale has scored just six and conceded eight. If the Bulldogs intend to put themselves into the Ivy League driver’s seat, that trend will need to be reversed.
Forward Margaret Purce, a senior who has made mincemeat of Eli defenses for years, leads the Crimson once again. Meredith offered high praise of her skill and emphasized that the only way to slow her down would be to keep the ball near Harvard’s net.
“[Harvard] is very difficult,” Meredith said. “They have the best player in the Ivy League [in] Purce. She’s scored every time except once that she’s played us, so stopping her and applying some pressure on their defense will be critical. They are a great offensive team, so we can’t just sit back and play defense. We’ll need to apply some pressure to their defense.”
Purce, a three-time first-team All-Ivy selection and the 2013 Ivy League Player of the Year, is on pace for her best season ever, tied for first in the Ivy League in goals scored with eight. However, Yale’s Aerial Chavarin ’20 is third in the conference in that same category with seven.
Not only will the Bulldogs be challenged by the Crimson on the pitch, but they must contend with the weight of the teams’ history as well. Yale is 0–7–1 against Harvard since 2008 and has not won in Cambridge since a 1–0 victory on Sept. 30, 2006. Almost a decade later, the Elis will attempt to erase those years of disappointment in what is perennially one of the biggest games of their season.
“We want to win really badly, especially because it’s Harvard,” captain Colleen McCormack ’17 said. “But we also need to kick off our Ivy League season well. Ivy play has so few games and anything can happen, so we have to start strong. We’re pumped for this match.”
Despite being the eleventh game of the season, this will be just the second time the Bulldogs play off of home turf. Their only other away game came on Sept. 11, when they fell 2–1 to Vermont.