Steve Musco

After a successful 2017 season that saw the women’s soccer team clinch double digit wins for the first time since 2009 and its highest league position – third – since 2011, the squad is hoping to build on that progress this fall in a freshly renovated Reese Stadium.

Although Yale (1–0–1, 0–0–0 Ivy) has lost a number of influential seniors, including former captain Carlin Hudson ’18, who now plays in the National Women’s Soccer League for the North Carolina Courage, key players like midfielder Noelle Higginson ’20 and attackers Aerial Chavarin ’20 and Michelle Alozie ’19 have all returned.

While captain and defender Brittany Simpson ’19 is out for the season with a torn achilles, the conversion of Fran Steele ’19 to a center back and the continued development of defender Christine Oberhausen ’21 mean the Bulldogs remain well-placed to contend with reigning champion No. 20 Princeton and perennial contender Columbia for the Ivy League title.

“The expectation is to be able to challenge for an Ivy League championship,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “That’s what our goal is going to be. The kids want this and are excited about the season ahead. They are working hard towards that goal.”

Last season, Yale kicked off the year with an impressive six-game win streak before falling to eventual national champion No. 1 Stanford. The Elis have been unable to replicate that feat to start off 2018, but a complete 3–0 win over Howard and a tough 3–1 loss to No.11 Georgetown, in which the Bulldogs lead for most of the game are no reason to sound the alarm bells either.

The early season form of Higginson in particular — one goal and three assists in those two fixtures — should give the Ivy League cause for concern, when the Bulldogs enter conference play. Additionally, with Chavarin healthy after injury troubles in 2017, Alozie — the Ivy League co-offensive player of the year — now has a formidable strike partner.

While Meredith often has relied on a 4–3–3 formation, with Hudson graduated and Simpson injured, he has tried to relieve pressure on a less-experienced defense by experimenting with a 3–6–1 formation against the Hoyas.

This configuration also plays to the Bulldogs’ strength in the midfield. Reina Bonta ’21 steadily grew into her role in midfield as the fall progressed last year and looks ready for expanded responsibilities this year. Bolstering Meredith’s squad, seven new first years have joined the Bulldogs to replace the eight graduates of the class of 2018.

But one of the few negatives for the team so far has been the accumulation of injuries. Along with Simpson’s torn achilles, several other players have been dealing with strained quads and hamstrings.

“At the beginning of this season, we have already suffered from injuries,” Oberhausen said. “Playing [Georgetown] this past weekend, we were at a disadvantage because of our limited available subs. Hopefully we can get everyone healthy soon to help fill up our playing roster again.”

Two key games stand out for Yale this season: the first Ivy League game against Princeton and the penultimate fixture against Columbia. Losing only to the Lions, the Tigers strung together a 6–1 conference record en route to last season’s title. The quality of this Princeton team has not escaped national attention — Last year they ranked as high as No. 13; this year, they currently sit at No. 20 in the NCAA poll.

Although Yale has beaten Columbia two years in a row now — in spectacular fashion both times — the Lions ever-stalwart defense still helped them to a second-place finish last year, and they remain top competition for the Bulldogs.

“We always try to beat Princeton, which is our first [Ivy] game,” Simpson said. “That’s our biggest target to win our first Ivy game. Columbia are also a good matchup. They are consistent despite our wins the last two years in overtime and with a penalty.”

The Bulldogs travel to Central Connecticut State on Thursday for a 7 p.m. clash.

Caleb Rhodes | caleb.rhodes@yale.edu