Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Fresh off a week in which it won its fifth consecutive game and secured votes in the national top-25 coaches poll, the Yale women’s soccer team heads to the west coast this weekend in search of wins No. 6 and 7 against the University of the Pacific and No. 2 Stanford University. A win in either matchup would already match last season’s win total of six, with the entirety of conference play still to come.

The Bulldogs (5–0–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) most recently completed an impressive 3–2 double-overtime comeback against Hofstra (2–3–1, 0–0–0 Colonial) with a golden goal in the 107th minute from first-year forward Lydia Shaw ’21. Now Yale follows the sun West to face the Tigers (2–3–1, 0–0–0 West Coast) and the powerhouse Cardinal (4–1–0, 0–0–0 Pac-12), the latter of whom are coming off a 7–0 thrashing of Navy.

“Stanford is going to be the best team any of us will ever face,” captain and defender Carlin Hudson ’18 said. “Each player is going to be fast, skilled, and they’re going to play together very well. However, if we are completely switched on and defend well, we believe we can hang with them and hopefully get a goal on a counter attack. Either way, the game will be a great learning experience for us.”

Although the Yale defense faltered unexpectedly against Hofstra, the offense continued to hum; the team has averaged 2.4 goals per game through its first five contests. Meanwhile, the Tigers have demonstrated a penchant for shipping goals when they lose.

Pacific has conceded eight goals in its three 2017 losses and  surrenders an average of 1.61 goals per a game. Additionally, the Tigers have only kept one clean sheet this season. Considering the Elis’ excellent form, Pacific should struggle to contain a dynamic offense led by forward Michelle Alozie ’19 that has nonetheless seen a variety of contributors this season.

Among that group is midfielder Noelle Higginson ’20, who netted her third goal of the season against Hofstra in what is becoming an excellent campaign for the sophomore. Her go-ahead strike in the 64th minute on Sunday pulled her level with Alozie as the team’s top scorer. Whether from open play, penalties or from set-piece routines, Higginson has displayed the ability to score in all situations.

The return of reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Aerial Chavarin ’20 to the starting lineup at Hofstra also increases competition for minutes in attack, which could elevate the intensity and drive of the Bulldog forwards on the pitch. Even first-year forwards are staking their claim for minutes. Shaw demonstrated her clutch ability in her gamewinner, but perhaps even more impressive was another rookie forward, Ciara Ostrander ’21. She not only opened the scoring against the Pride but also provided the crucial assist for Shaw.

“[Beating] UConn and UMiami has just given us the confidence that we needed,” Alozie said. “We believed we were a good team that could beat top teams like UMiami and UConn, and having those results [shows] not only us but others that we are a team to worry about.”

As impressive as Yale’s roster is, Stanford’s is as competitive.

The Cardinal currently occupies the No. 2 ranking in all of Division I, having spent time at No. 1 earlier in the year. Led by star midfielder Andi Sullivan, who has already received national attention from Team USA, Stanford will provide the ultimate test for the Bulldogs in their nonconference campaign.

“I think work ethic on offense is going be even more important than usual — just pester their defenders and try to force mistakes,” Higginson said. “I don’t think we’re going into this game expecting to have the majority of possession, so we’re going to have to be really efficient with the chances we get.”

Rookie forward Catarina Macario has burst onto the college scene with six goals in her first five games, while junior Kyra Caruso has matched that tally as the team’s leading scorer. In total, Stanford has amassed 22 goals in 2017, with eight players having scored for an offense firing on all cylinders. The Cardinal will sorely test the experienced Yale backline that has kept three clean sheets and only allowed four goals in its five games.

Stanford is equally adept defensively, having kept four clean sheets of its own. The only blemish on its season’s defensive mark came in a 3–2 away defeat to No. 7 Florida in Gainesville.

“It’s huge for us to be getting national recognition this year — it shows that all our hard work and success hasn’t gone unnoticed,” goalkeeper Alyssa Fagel ’20 said. “It also keeps us extremely motivated to keep winning because every victory, especially against other successful teams, bring us that much closer to being ranked in the top 25.”

The Bulldogs take on Pacific in Stockton, California, on Friday at 10 p.m. before facing the Cardinal on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Chris Brackenchristopher.bracken@yale.edu

Caleb Rhodes caleb.rhodes@yale.edu