Robbie Short

After ballasting its unsteady season with a dramatic victory against Dartmouth, the Yale women’s soccer team now sets course for Ithaca.

Last Saturday’s emphatic 1–0 triumph over the Big Green gave the Bulldogs (5–4–3, 1–1–1 Ivy) their first conference win of the season — in fact, their first in 364 days — and kept them firmly in contention for a first-place Ivy League finish. Next up for the Elis is a critical contest with Cornell (3–7–2, 0–2–1), whose winless conference start strands them at the bottom of the league table.

“Because our season in the Ivy League is so short, each game matters,” midfielder Noelle Higginson ’20 said. “So we try to take it game-by-game and make sure that our focus is on each [match]. But obviously in the back of our minds, we’re thinking about our ultimate goal, which is to win the conference title.”

Higginson provided the drama last weekend in Hanover, scoring her first career goal to break the deadlock in the 73rd minute. She was named the Ivy Rookie of the Week for her heroics, joining Aerial Chavarin ’20 as the two Elis to receive the weekly honor this season.

The win against the Big Green has the Bulldogs moored in fourth place in the Ancient Eight, tied with perennial powerhouse Princeton, whom they battled to a 1–1 draw two weeks ago. While a tie against Dartmouth would have nearly eliminated Yale from title contention, the three points from the victory have instead rekindled hope of a potential worst-to-first turnaround from 2015. The Elis still do not control their own destiny but have opened a few new channels towards claiming the Ivy crown.

A collision with the Big Red lies straight ahead in Yale’s path. Though Cornell has yet to earn a conference win this season, it most recently managed a shocking scoreless draw with Harvard, a team that toppled the Bulldogs 2–1 earlier this season. With that result in mind, Yale head coach Rudy Meredith has imparted an aggressive mindset to his players entering the weekend.

“Because the Ivy League is so open, a lot of [the final standings] come down to goal differential,” Higginson said. “Our plan is to play a little bit more of an attacking style. We want to stay tough on defense, but we’re going to go for it and try and score as many goals as possible.”

Cornell’s defense allowed seven goals in its first two conference games before steadying the ship with a clean sheet against the Crimson last weekend. The Big Red have conceded 14 total goals this season, tied for the second highest total in the Ivy League. Only Yale has given up more, allowing 15 goals in 12 games.

Senior skipper Kailey Joyce, who has played more than 150 minutes more than any other Cornell player this year, captains an inexperienced backline that routinely features multiple freshmen. The inconsistent Big Red defense has recorded five shutouts but has also conceded multiple goals on four occasions. They will set up against a Yale attack that has been prolific so far this season — the Bulldogs have chalked up 20 goals on the year, five times the Big Red’s 2016 total.

At the other end of the pitch, Cornell has struggled to find the back of the net, having scored one goal in its last nine games and just four in the entire season. The Big Red’s main offensive weapon is junior forward Paige DeLoach, who leads the team with two goals, both coming in 1–0 wins.

“We saw Harvard underestimate Cornell this [past] weekend,” midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19 said. “So we are going into the game with confidence and [also with] respect for Cornell.”

Chavarin plays a starring role in the Bulldog attack, with her eight goals leaving her ranked third in the league. Fellow forward Michelle Alozie ’19 has fired 34 shots on goal, the fifth highest total in the Ancient Eight. Although Alozie’s efforts have translated into just three goals, she has contributed four assists as well.

Defensively, the Elis kept their first Ivy League clean sheet last weekend against Dartmouth. Maintaining a high level of focus, a problem area this year, will be vital to keeping the team on point against Cornell.

A positive result from this weekend’s matchup is important for Yale as it seeks to keep the league leaders in sight. A surprising Columbia team has cruised five points ahead of the pack with a perfect trio of victories from its opening games. However, the Lions have not yet faced Yale or traditional Ivy League heavyweights Harvard and Princeton.

“It’s very exciting [to be back in the race],” Meredith said. “It keeps the players motivated. I’m proud of them for their turnaround; it’s been a [complete] change from last year to this year. I give the coaches and players a lot of credit. Last year was a little like the Titanic, and this year is more like a cruise ship.”

Yale will begin play against Cornell at 1 p.m. Saturday in Ithaca.