Gladys Fang

The Yale women’s soccer team doubled its Ivy League win total from last season, matching its highest conference victory total since 2011 and laying the framework for future success.

After a disappointing 4–10–2 finish last year, with a particularly dire 1–6 mark in league games, a Yale team that routinely featured mostly underclassmen in the starting lineup had significant room for improvement and started to deliver on some of its promise with a final record of 6–7–3, 2–4–1 in Ivy play.

“We have much better chemistry on and off the field [compared to last year],” captain Colleen McCormack ’17 said. “The entire season was more fun, and even though our record doesn’t necessarily reflect this, we played much better soccer. We were in every game and fought until the end.”

The Elis proved their competitive credentials early on in the Ivy League slate, battling last season’s champion Princeton to a 1–1 draw before losing 2–1 to Harvard despite holding an early lead. These two matches last year had ended in 3–0 and 4–0 defeats for Yale. Even though they failed to secure three points in either game this season, the Bulldogs had their share of opportunities to win in both games.

The highlight of the season for the Elis came with a victory over then-league leader Columbia, a triumph that permanently knocked the Lions from their perch. On senior night, forward Michelle Alozie ’19 drew Yale level with 10 seconds to play against the then-best defensive team in the conference before midfielder Geneva Decker ’17 fired home the overtime winner.

That result proved the high-water mark of an inconsistent league schedule for the Elis. The low point came with a 2–1 away loss to cellar-dwelling Cornell, the worst defensive team in the Ancient Eight, despite the Bulldogs monopolizing possession and dominating the shot count. The Elis ended up level with the Big Red in sixth place on the year with seven points, just two shy of a berth in the top half and 10 behind champion Harvard.

The Cornell game was one of the few in which the Bulldogs offense failed to fire this year. The Elis scored 23 goals, five more than last season. That extra firepower was sparked by the team-best nine goals and five assists from freshman forward Aerial Chavarin ’20. Chavarin’s efforts were rewarded with the League Rookie of the Year award and a first-team All-Ivy spot.

Alozie scored four times to go with her four assists, while midfielders Sofia Griff ’19 and Sarah McCauley ’18 each tallied thrice. In total, 18 Yale strikes came from underclassmen and just two from graduating seniors.

At the other end, Yale conceded first in 11 games this season, placing it in a hole from which the team often struggled to emerge. The Bulldogs still rallied to draw or win five of those matches, showing the team’s resilience in the face of adversity.

“The culture of the team has changed significantly since last year,” midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19 said. “It was evident both on and off the field and really translated into our performance. [The sophomore] class gained a lot of experience from last year, especially because so many of us played significant amounts [this season]. It was clear how valuable that year of experience was as we progressed through our sophomore year.”

However, momentary defensive weaknesses would stick as a recurring theme throughout the season, marring the defensive solidity that predominated the vast majority of each Yale game. The Elis conceded 12 fewer goals this season than last, just 20 compared with 32. Defender Carlin Hudson ’18, who received many of the most difficult marking assignments over the course of the year, emphasized the defensive improvement, coming back after missing last season due to injury to earn second-team All-Ivy accolades.

Breakdowns on set pieces proved to be the Elis’ Achilles’ heel. The first goal Yale conceded on the season came off a Bryant free kick, and four of the seven Ivy goals the team allowed came from set plays. Those concessions eventually proved fatal to the Bulldog’s title aspirations.

Yet the set piece slip-ups proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Yale shackled the two leading scorers in the league, Harvard’s Midge Purce and Princeton’s Tyler Lussi, from open play. However, they threw both efforts away with slack marking on set plays.

McCormack will be the only departure from the much-improved backline. Behind the defense, the Elis found a new starting goalkeeper in Alyssa Fagel ’20. The freshman class played a significant role for the team this season — five Yale freshmen, including Chavarin and Fagel, played in nine or more matches.

“The freshmen adjusted and fit in immediately,” McCormack said. “The nice thing about fall sports is that we have a preseason before school starts in which we can just focus on the team, so we all bonded quickly. They’re also huge contributors on the field. I’m excited to see what the team accomplishes next year.”

Even though the Bulldogs ended the season with a losing record both overall and in the league, Yale had a goal differential of +3. That margin depicts both a significant improvement from last year’s -14 and a competitiveness in matches that should translate into more points in years to come.

The conference landscape will change next year with the graduation of Purce and Lussi, who have combined for the last four Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Awards. Yale will lose just two starters in Decker and McCormack, and head coach Rudy Meredith has lined up a strong incoming recruiting class.

The path to the Ivy League title has many potential pitfalls. Brown and Columbia both have bright futures ahead, and Harvard and Princeton will regroup for another assault on the top of the conference. However, Yale has firmly ensconced itself in that discussion and will look to use this year’s framework as a launching pad for a challenge in the upper echelons of the league.

“The whole team elevated themselves from last year,” Meredith said. “We’re excited looking ahead to next year because of [the players] we have coming back. With the [recruits] we’re bringing in, we are going to add a lot to the team that we have.”

This season was coach Meredith’s 22nd as head coach. He is the winningest head coach in Yale women’s soccer history.