Steve Musco

The Yale women’s soccer team will be feeling deja vu from last season after a 90th-minute penalty kick by forward Aerial Chavarin ’20 downed a resilient Columbia team that had not conceded a goal in the Ivy League all season.

In the same fixture a year ago, it was Michelle Alozie ’19 who prevented the Lions (9–5–1, 5–1–0 Ivy)  from clinching the Ivy League title with a goal 12 seconds before time. With this 1-0 victory, the Elis (10–4–2, 3–2–1) secured their first double-digit win total since 2009 and proved their might in a competitive conference. No. 15 Princeton (13–2–0, 5–1–0) and Columbia now sit tied with 15 points at the top of the table, while a win for the Bulldogs next weekend against Brown (11–4–0, 4–2–0) would see Yale finish third.

“Every time we go into the [Columbia game], they always seem to have the upper hand,” Brittany Simpson ’19 said. “We knew that they were coming in confident, being first in the league and with a shutout streak. We had to top their excitement and aggression. We did that, and I’m glad it resulted in a win.”

On the back of a demoralizing 3–1 loss to Penn that knocked them out of the Ancient Eight title race, the Elis could be forgiven for a subdued performance against the roaring Lions. However, the Bulldogs delivered just the opposite in a high octane and proactive approach to the match.

Abandoning the 3–5–2 formation he typically uses, head coach Rudy Meredith employed a 4–3–3. Defender Kristi Wharton ’20 dropped to the bench while Lydia Shaw ’21 joined a front three with perennial starters Alozie and Chavarin. The purpose of this tactical switch was to put pressure on a defense that had yet to concede in conference play this season, Meredith said.

“When you play Columbia, you have to match their intensity,” he said. “The trademark of their team is their hard work ethic, so we stepped up and had to match it. In practice this week, we focused on high pressing, like a full-court press in basketball. I wanted the team to work harder and up the tempo. The formation change helped us achieve that. The assistant coach from Columbia … said he was surprised by the change of formation and that it threw them off.”

While Yale has not used this formation recently, the 4–3–3 made a number of appearances earlier in the season. Columbia was certainly not expecting to see the lineup, but the Bulldogs felt comfortable with the shift. Playing as underdogs for the first time in weeks and no longer burdened by title aspirations, the Elis had the freedom to shake things up.

In the first half, the Elis battled hard but couldn’t fully batten down the hatches. Creating eight shots to Yale’s five, Columbia’s attacking quartet of Amaris Hemmings, Emma Anderson, Emily Koe and Natalie Neshat pried and teased the Yale defense.

After the restart, the Lions no longer found any space due to constant harassment from the Bulldogs’ front three. Simpson and captain Carlin Hudson ’18 marshaled a defense that limited Columbia to two shots after the break.

Both teams had to wait for the real drama to occur. On the precipice of a league title for the second year running, Columbia just needed to see out the last minute of regulation time. Last year, the Lions took a 1–0 lead into the final minute; however, a late Alozie goal sparked an emphatic overtime win for the Elis that spoiled Columbia’s title hopes.

In that match, Chavarin had her fingerprints on both goals with key assists, but this year it was her feet that led Yale to victory. Taken down in the box with a minute to go, she proceeded to dust herself off and place the ensuing penalty precisely into the bottom right corner.

“My heart was beating really fast. I could feel and hear it pounding,” Chavarin said. “I was just thinking ‘bottom right corner, bottom right corner.’ I just wanted to win so bad.”

With the loss, Columbia now faces the prospect of missing out on the title if it doesn’t match Princeton’s result next weekend. Meanwhile, Yale hosts Brown in the final match of the season.

Caleb Rhodes | caleb.rhodes@yale.edu