While the San Francisco Bay Area is perhaps best known for its basketball, it is also home to a flourishing soccer community — just ask the Yale women’s soccer team.
Eleven of the 30 Elis on the roster hail from California, by far the most from any state in the country. The group includes all three goalkeepers, captain and defender Carlin Hudson ’18 and the team’s top two leading scorers from a year ago, Michelle Alozie ’19 and Aerial Chavarin ’20.
“In California, they play outdoors all year round, which is a plus,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “I think the kids are attracted to the East Coast because out there the best school is Stanford and there are eight Ivy League schools, so there’s more of an opportunity. Everyone can’t go to Stanford.”
The vast majority of the California Bulldogs make their home in the Bay Area, around the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The three netminders for the Bulldogs, Jane Buckley ’20, Alyssa Fagel ’20 and Maritza Grillo ’19, epitomize this recruiting trend; Buckley and Grillo both hail from Orinda, California, while Fagel lives barely an hour away on the other side of the Bay. Fagel and Buckley have been crucial to Yale’s early season defensive success, with their organization and ability to corral dangerous crosses resulting in two clean sheets, even if they have faced very few attempts on target.
Three more Elis spend their years before Yale at Oakland-based Bishop O’Dowd High School. Veteran midfielder Taylor Hobbs ’18, Chavarin, and rookie midfielder Reina Bonta ’21 all spent their high school career playing for the athletic powerhouse. Though the trio didn’t overlap — Hobbs played just one season with Chavarin before the latter switched to basketball, where she helped lead the team to a state championship, and Bonta arrived after Hobbs’ graduation — the three Bulldogs all shared the same coach.
“It’s less about the fact that we went to the same high school and more about the fact that we all received that same excellent coaching,” Hobbs said. “Off the field, it’s great to have people with similar backgrounds, who come from the same area. We all automatically have something in common, which helps us bond as teammates. That strong team bond also helps on the field as well.”
Chavarin, the 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, has yet to appear this season due to injury, but Alozie, her fellow Californian and the team’s other standout striker, has helped pick up the scoring slack with a pair of goals in the first three games. Finding goals will be even more vital for the Bulldogs as the team embarks on a West Coast road trip to face a pair of talented teams, the University of the Pacific and No. 1 Stanford.
The trip back home will not only provide a look at some familiar faces from high school and club soccer for the Elis, but also poses a true test of their growth this season and a measuring stick for their Ivy League title aspirations. Meredith underscored the scouting bonuses of the Yale players’ prior competitive experience alongside and against many Californians on Stanford’s roster; sophomore forward Ceci Gee, who started five games for the Cardinal in 2016, attended the same high school as Maritza Grillo and her sister Mia Grillo ’21, who joined the Elis this season.
“It’s always a benefit to have girls who grew up in the same area as you,” Maritza Grillo said. “They know people you know, places you’ve been and can relate to your general cultural identity.”
The large number of players from the West Coast helps the Elis in recruiting in California as well and the Bay Area as well, according to Meredith, as the geographic similarities provide benefits in the locker room and on the field. With 11 girls providing just enough to make a full team, an East Coast versus West Coast scrimmage could lie in the works.
The Bulldogs are back in action on Friday night against the University of Miami.
Chris Bracken | firstname.lastname@example.org | @chrisbracken16