YaleAthletics

With its Ivy League title dreams in tatters, the Yale women’s soccer team travels to Columbia playing for pride and hoping to replicate last year’s upset that denied the Lions the conference title.

Last week’s disappointing 3–1 defeat to Penn (5–6–3, 3–1–1 Ivy) leaves the Elis (9–4–2, 2–2–1) mathematically eliminated from the race for the top spot. Meanwhile, Columbia (9–4–1, 5–0–0) has barreled its way through the Ivy League and sits alone at the top with five wins from five games. A win against the Lions would prove the Bulldogs’ mettle, while also securing a double-digit win season for the first time since 2009.

“We haven’t had a 10- or 11-win season in a while,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Now we still have an opportunity to do that and can still control who wins the Ivy League. Our team is going to come out and play [against Columbia], and we are excited to do that.”

The fixture against the Quakers laid bare all the issues that have been nagging the Bulldogs recently, namely an inability to turn dominance of possession into quality chances and, more fundamentally, shots into goals.

Yale took the lead against Penn through forward Michelle Alozie ’19 in the 55th minute. Her eighth goal of the campaign appeared to set the Elis on the path to victory, but a swift and clinical comeback from the Quakers suddenly flipped the scoreline around. By the 80th minute, Penn found itself with a 3–1 lead after an offensive flurry left Yale demoralized.

Yale controlled the ball against Penn and outshot the Quakers 16 to 11, but the edge in shots and possession has mattered little in this game or the previous few matches. The Elis have taken 74 shots over their last three games but only have three goals to show for it. Over that same period, the opposition shot just 29 times but scored four times.

The Bulldogs can feel aggrieved by the unfortunate sequence of lackluster results, but they had their chances to improve the outcomes.

Columbia has had no such problems in steamrolling its opposition, posting a perfect mark in the Ivy League so far without conceding a goal. This level of dominance seemed unlikely after its mixed bag of nonconference results, but since turning its eyes to the Ancient Eight, Columbia has toyed with its rivals.

First, the Lions brushed aside Cornell in a 2–0 win before facing nonconference foe Wagner. The first signs of Columbia’s title aspirations revealed themselves in this game when after 90 minutes, a beleaguered Seahawks team looked up to witness an unfathomable 11–0 scoreline.

In many ways, the Lions represent Yale’s antithesis. While the Elis struggled to break down the Big Red and failed to record a blowout against mediocre nonconference opposition in Howard, the Lions ruthlessly converted their superiority into goals and clinched convincing wins in both fixtures.

Columbia also is the only team in the Ivy League to defeat the No. 15 Tigers. Although the win had elements of smash and grab, the Lions shut out 2–0 a then-No. 11 Princeton team that looked poised to stroll to the title. Columbia has a sound defense, an offense with a high conversion rate and an ability to close out games that no other Ancient Eight team has shown so consistently.

The Columbia defense returns almost unchanged from last season’s superb unit, which kept 10 clean sheets including seven in a row. Led by senior and second-team All-Ivy honoree Natalie Ambrose and sophomore All-Ivy defender Amalya Johnson, the Lion backline is currently riding a six-game shutout run. However, last season, Yale snapped that seven-game shutout streak and became the first team to score on Columbia in the Ivy League.

The Elis’ goal in that game against the then-league leaders arrived in dramatic fashion as forward Aerial Chavarin ’20 fed Alozie for a dramatic equalizer with just 12 seconds to play. The Bulldogs went on to win in overtime, and this victory knocked Columbia into a tailspin that ended with another loss to Harvard and an eventual third-place Ivy League finish.

The weight of a 6–0 start and the designation of title contender hindered the Bulldogs’ ability to express themselves in conference play. Aside from the Harvard game, where rivalry injected the match with a different energy and motivations, the Elis looked stressed every moment a game remained in deadlock in the other Ivy matchups. Now, without the pressure of a championship chase, Yale will have the opportunity to take risks against the Lions.

“We are going out there to win for us and for our seniors,” defender Brittany Simpson ’19 said. “If we go out and win, we make the race more competitive. We are going to give [Columbia] a game and not let up for a second. We are going to play our hardest and come out strong like we know we can.”

One of these risks may come in the form of tactical alterations. Over the last few weeks, the starting midfield has changed dramatically. First, Meredith removed midfielder Fran Steele ’19 from her position in the midfield trio alongside Sarah McCauley ’18 and Noelle Higginson ’20 and inserted Reina Bonta ’21 in her place. Then Meredith shifted McCauley to the bench in favor of midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19.

In an attempt to season some of his talented younger players ahead of next season, Meredith may shift some minutes around in these closing fixtures. A number of first years have shown flashes of potential in their cameos this season, and three different Elis won Ivy Rookie of the Week.

“We have two games left against solid teams,” captain and defender Carlin Hudson ’18 said. “Winning out would be a high note. As a senior, this has already been my best season, but we still want that 10th win. A win against Columbia would show that we are one of the best teams in the league. That would be a great and memorable way to end the season.”

The Elis play Columbia at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Caleb Rhodes | caleb.rhodes@yale.edu