For the third week in a row the Yale women’s soccer team will face a team of Tigers. This time, however, the stakes are considerably higher.
The Bulldogs (6–2–1, 0–0–0 Ivy) compiled a mixed bag of results in their last two weekends of competition before Ivy League play, shutting out the University of Pacific Tigers to extend a historic season-opening win streak before going 0–2–1 against No. 2 Stanford, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the Tigers of Colorado College. But while their nonconference slate overall provided the Elis confidence, their Saturday match with No. 16 Princeton (7–1–0, 0–0–0) will serve as a season-defining fixture.
“If we walk out of [Princeton] with a win, then that motivates the rest of the Ivy League season,” captain and defender Carlin Hudson ’18 said. “If you drop the first game, it is tougher to keep pushing through when you want to hold your destiny in your own hands, so it’s really important that we go in, play hard, play strong and get a win out of that game.”
Ahead of the Colorado College match, multiple team members reflected on Yale’s 7–0 loss to top-ranked Stanford as a learning opportunity. But the Bulldogs experienced a frustrating role reversal against Colorado College. While the Tigers sat deep awaiting counterattacking opportunities — as Yale did against the Cardinal — the Elis failed to crack the defense.
In controlling possession and outshooting the Tigers 18–5, Yale dominated the game but lacked the offensive guile to break Colorado down. Resorting almost exclusively to crosses from the wings, the Eli offense rarely played through the middle of the field except when forward Michelle Alozie ’19 bullied her way through the box alone.
Two days later, UMass took advantage of Yale’s fatigue from the double-overtime draw and secured a home win with a 69th-minute goal from forward Kelly Marra. Yale again shot often but could not convert, indicating that while the Bulldogs’ stingy defense can drag the team to a draw, they will struggle to defeat Princeton without a complementary offense.
“It’s important to start off the league really well,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “You don’t want to have to chase the title for the rest of the season. You want to try to be out in front. [It is a] very important game, and obviously Princeton is very, very good.”
The secret to rediscovering Yale’s attacking prowess may lie in returning to the formula that served it so well at the season’s start: youth. With last season’s top scorer and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Aerial Chavarin ’20 sidelined with injury for the first three games of her sophomore campaign, Meredith turned to his squadron of talented rookies for offensive help.
The week of Sept. 4, first-year midfielder Sarah Jordan ’21 was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after scoring a pair of goals. The following week, another first-year Bulldog, forward Ciara Ostrander ’21, starred against Hofstra and brought the Rookie of the Week honors to Yale once again. In total, Jordan and the contingent of first-year forwards have provided four goals and four assists, nearly equaling the five goals and five helpers supplied by the other three classes’ forwards combined. The rookies have filled Chavarin’s void, and trusting them to continue to do so will help both their development and Yale’s season.
The Elis enter the game in arguably the worst form of their season, but a win this weekend would set Yale up excellently to compete with contenders such as Brown, Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy League title race. The potential coupling of veteran leadership in defense and a hungry, young attack could rekindle the Bulldogs’ form and catalyze their second half.
Like Yale, Princeton started 6–0–0 but saw its streak snapped against a ranked team in then-No. 6 West Virginia. Although the Mountaineers outshot the Tigers 16–7 with a 4–0 edge in shots on goal, Princeton held West Virginia to just a single score, joining No. 4 Duke, No. 11 Virginia, No. 15 Georgetown and La Salle as the only teams to accomplish this in 2017.
Princeton, has gone from strength to strength over the course of its nonconference play. Currently residing at No. 16 in the national rankings, the Tigers rose from No. 20 last week after a complete performance against the University of Delaware. The Ivy League’s fifth-place finisher from a year ago has earned its stripes in 2017, having already defeated multiple high-quality opponents such as current No. 24 North Carolina State and current No. 18 Wake Forest before turning to its Ancient Eight rivals.
“Any first game is huge because we only have seven [Ivy League games] and that decides if we make the [NCAA] tournament or not,” midfielder Sarah McCauley ’18 said. “Ivies are where it matters.”
Yale kicks off its Ivy League season at Princeton this Saturday at 4 p.m.
Caleb Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org