Yale Athletics

When the Yale women’s soccer team kicks off its season against St. John’s on Friday, the Elis will also embark on a new era for their program.

This year’s opener marks head coach Brendan Faherty’s first game in charge of the Bulldogs as the team moves on from a turbulent year. During the 2018 campaign, the Elis struggled in Ivy play and ultimately finished seventh with a 7–9–1 (1–6–0 Ivy) record. More significantly perhaps, the Varsity Blues national college admissions scandal and the arrest of longtime former head coach Rudy Meredith blighted the program’s reputation. Nevertheless, the 2019 Bulldogs have taken significant steps to move on from last year.

“I am really happy with how everything went with preseason as this is a period of time where we are looking to set the foundation for the rest of the season,” Faherty said. “Our student-athletes not only worked hard during training sessions but also spent time to get to know their teammates better and integrate the first years into the group.”

Senior players are set to play a vital role in the development of this new side. Goalkeeper Alyssa Fagel ’20 has taken on the role of captain as she looks to integrate the seven new first-year recruits into the squad. Two-time All-Ivy midfielder Noelle Higginson ’20 and last year’s leading goalscorer, striker Aerial Chavarin ’20, are also returning to the pitch for their senior year.

The class of 2020 will also look to fill in the shoes of those who graduated in 2019. The Bulldogs are now without 2017 Ivy League Co-Offensive Player of the Year Michelle Alozie ’19, as well as defensive rock, former captain and internationally capped Brittany Simpson ’19.

“Players came in fit and motivated; the returners are eager to get back on the field, and all the first years brought new skills and energy to the group,” Fagel said.

The team has an eight game nonconference slate in preparation for its Ivy League opener, starting with St. John’s. In the past, these games have offered Yale an opportunity to build momentum before the stakes increase in conference play. The Bulldogs won six of nine nonconference games ahead of their conference opener in 2017 and five of eight in 2018.

The Elis open their Ancient Eight campaign against Princeton, which has been a dominant force in women’s soccer in recent years. Yale is looking for revenge this season after the Tigers batted the Bulldogs aside in New Haven 3–0.

Princeton topped the Ivy League preseason poll ahead of 2018 champions Penn. The Tigers received 10 first-place votes, the most of any team. Yale landed seventh in the poll, with Cornell sitting behind the Elis. The Bulldogs beat Cornell 1–0 in October for their only win in conference play. The Big Red finished last in the Ivy League last season.

However, with the conference competition several weeks away, the team is very much still focused on the fixture versus SJU. The Redstorm are fresh off a 2–1 double overtime defeat to James Madison and currently own a 0–2 record for the year. Players to watch out for include All-Big East preseason selection Zsani Kajan, who nabbed her first goal of the season against the Dukes.

“This weekend is the start of the journey, but it’s only one step, and for us the key is to focus on one practice at a time, one game at a time, and if we do that, we will enjoy our time together the next few months,” Faherty said.

St. John’s defeated Yale 2–0 at Reese Stadium in New Haven in 2016.

Bill Gallagher | william.gallagher@yale.edu