First Ivy League Championship Since 1980
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – It was a celebration 31 years in the making. The Yale field hockey team's run to the Ivy League title culminated Saturday afternoon at Johnson Field on Senior Day, with all six members of the Class of 2012 contributing to the 7-0 win over Brown that earned the Bulldogs a piece of the Ancient Eight crown for the first time since 1980.
The cold but sunny day belonged to Yale (11-6, 6-1 Ivy League) from the get-go, as sophomore midfielder/back Georgia Holland's goal at 7:07 put the Bulldogs up 1-0 and they never looked back. Six minutes later, senior forward Mia Rosati took a feed from sophomore forward Erica Borgo off a rebound and put in another goal for a 2-0 lead.
Brown (4-13, 0-7 Ivy League) came up empty on a pair of penalty corners after that, and after sophomore goalie Emily Cain cleared a ball with a kick midway through the first half the Bulldogs resumed their offensive onslaught. Holland drew a corner and senior back Taylor Sankovich drilled home a goal at 21:40 off assists from Borgo, the inserter, and sophomore forward/midfielder Emily Schuckert, the stick stopper.
Less than four minutes after that, Schuckert set up senior forward/midfielder Kirsten Krebs for a goal, and the Bulldogs headed into halftime up 4-0 and with a 29-2 advantage in shots. They would go on to outshoot Brown 22-4 in the second half, overcoming a 20-save effort from Brown goalie Shannon McSweeney for the win.
"In scouting Brown, we knew they were a team that doesn't let down," said head coach Pam Stuper. "When it was 3-0 we knew they could come back quickly with a couple of goals. Once we sunk that fourth goal, we started feeling pretty good. At halftime it was just a matter of telling our players to do what they just did all over again."
The Bulldogs struck again seven minutes into the second half, with senior back Erin Carter scoring on a penalty corner and Borgo and senior midfielder/back Chelsey Locarno picking up assists. Cain kicked away a dangerous ball with 26 minutes to play, and shortly after Krebs scored again (off a cross from sophomore forward Maddy Sharp) to make it 6-0 freshman goalie Heather Schlesier came on in relief of Cain.
Schlesier was tested immediately, making a pair of saves to preserve the shutout. This was Yale's third whitewashing of the season -- all in the last five games -- and each one was a team effort that involved multiple goalies (a combination of Cain, Schlesier and junior Ona McConnell) plus some stellar work at both ends of the field from the rest of the team.
"Our midfield helped control the game, and that was one of the reasons we were able to shut down Brown's attack," said Stuper. "Kirsten Krebs had an outstanding game, running down the right side, scoring on a tip in -- that's not a typical type of goal for her. Maddy Sharp played very well. [Senior midfielder] Dinah [Landshut] was outstanding. From the first whistle until the end, we had some dangerous plays. Erin Carter was solid in the backfield and kept us organized. Taylor Sankovich had one of her best performances."
With three minutes to play the Bulldogs continued taking care of business. Carter scored a penalty corner goal, assisted by Borgo and Landshut. Borgo's four-assist day wound up giving her the school single-season assist record (17), with Landshut tied for second at 16 with the former record holder, Katie Cantore '10.
The goal by Carter was her 18th of the season, placing her in a tie for third on Yale's single-season record list with Amanda Walton '02 (1998). It also elicited chants "M-V-P!" from the large crowd of Bulldog fans on hand at Johnson Field.
Those chants turned to "Ivy Champions" as the final 30 seconds ticked off with Landshut dribbling the ball in the midfield. Then came an emotional celebration, as the Bulldogs could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Ever since losing their second Ivy League game of the year, a 3-2 loss at Princeton Sept. 24, this team knew that it had no margin for error in pursuit of the title.
As it turned out, by that point of the season the Bulldogs had already received all the help they needed -- Dartmouth had beaten Princeton the previous week, the Tigers' first league loss in four years. Princeton and Yale finished the season tied atop the standings with 6-1 league records, making the two teams co-champions. Based on their win in head-to-head competition, the Tigers will get the Ivy League's spot in the play-in game this Tuesday that determines a spot in the NCAA tournament, while Yale will have to wait and hope for an at-large berth.
"When we first sat down with the team at the end of the Princeton game, of course there was disappointment that it wasn't their best performance," said Stuper. "But I said 'The good news is you still control your own destiny for an Ivy League title.' That became our mantra -- controlling what we can control."
That began the next weekend with a league win over Cornell, and a memorable 1-0 loss to then-No. 4 UConn, 1-0, that proved the Bulldogs were capable of playing with the nation's best. After a trip to the Midwest that included a 3-2 win at then-No. 14 Northwestern (Yale's first win over a ranked team in Stuper's tenure), the Bulldogs returned home for a showdown with Dartmouth. The Big Green was still undefeated in league play at the time, but a convincing 5-1 win by the Bulldogs left five teams tied for first place in the league -- Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
"After we beat Dartmouth, that was when it really became clear that [a championship] was within our reach," said Carter.
After winning a non-league game vs. Fairfield, the Bulldogs then came upon what would be their closest call of the season: a narrow 2-1 win at Penn. With Yale's corner unit struggling on the unique SprinTurf surface at Franklin Field, it took a goal by sophomore forward Gabby Garcia (assisted by Sankovich) to tie the game 1-1 early in the second half. Borgo, assisted by Krebs, then delivered a memorable game-winning goal with 15 minutes to play by backhanding one up and over the Penn goalie and into the far upper corner of the cage.
That same weekend Dartmouth and Harvard lost to drop out of the first-place tie, and on Oct. 28 the Bulldogs knocked off Columbia in New York, 3-1. After a non-league win over Holy Cross last Sunday Yale could turn its full attention to the game vs. Brown, still living by the "one game at a time, one play at a time" approach even as the chance to make history loomed.
"Actually, it wasn't hard at all to keep the team focused," said Stuper. "They approached this last game just like they approached all the other games. There wasn't any talk about what might happen."
The Bulldogs got some media attention, including a visit from the local ABC television affiliate to tape a story about the possibility of an Ivy title, but they never got distracted.
"There was a lot of anticipation," Carter said. "We had to have a lot of self-control, saying we wanted to go one game at a time."
Princeton won Friday night at Penn, so the Bulldogs entered the day Saturday knowing full well that they had to win in order to claim a piece of the title. Yet they continued to strike the perfect balance between being dogged in their determination while also being relaxed in their demeanor. During Saturday morning's walkthrough, just hours before the biggest game of their lives, they playfully danced around on the turf to the sounds of Michael Jackson and Kool and the Gang while getting ready. They clearly knew that preparation was about to meet opportunity.
"Our team has always had good chemistry," Carter said. "The other piece we had was individual responsibility. Everybody knew their job, and did their job."
The end result was a joyous celebration as the Bulldogs rushed the field to enjoy the moment together after the historic win.
"I heard a lot of 'This is the happiest I've ever been in my life,'" Carter said.
The Bulldogs also doused Stuper with the PowerAde bucket, and invited many of the alums who had come back to see the game to join them in a celebratory huddle.
"It was definitely emotional," Stuper said. "I looked up at the clock with seven seconds to go, and watched it count down. There aren't enough words to describe that feeling for this team, for these seniors, and for all the alums that have come and gone since 1980 and shown so much support for this program."
That support had a tangible representation down on the field Saturday, as has been the case since 2009. Prior to the Harvard game that year, alums Emily Bateson '80 and Lorraine Pratte '78 returned to Yale with a gift -- a ball, signed by the 1979 team, that was given to Bateson after Yale beat Harvard to end the 1979 season. The players who signed that ball formed the core of that 1980 Ivy championship team, and the 2009 Bulldogs immediately adopted the "lucky ball" and began bringing it to every game. Bateson and Pratte returned, along with Carol McPhillips '81, to speak to the team before this year's Harvard game -- a 5-1 victory that started the run to the 2011 title. Yale is now 17-4 in Ivy League games over the past three seasons with the ball, including three wins over Harvard.
The Class of 2012, which was honored on the field before the game, has also had a major role in those impressive numbers. The seniors have helped the Bulldogs to 41 overall victories in four years (second only to the Class of 1999's 45 wins). Landshut is the school's all-time assist leader (44), while Carter is tied with Walton for fourth on the career goals list (35). Carter (fifth, 77 points) and Landshut (tied with Walton for sixth, 74 points) have both cracked the top 10 in career points, and Rosati (tenth, 23 goals) also makes an appearance on Yale's career top 10 list for goals.
Those three record breakers, combined with the way that players like Krebs, Locarno and Sankovich executed their roles on the team to perfection, helped the Bulldogs to back-to-back second place finishes in 2009 and 2010 -- seasons that served as a prelude to the breakthrough in 2011.
"Every year that I've been here, the goal has been to win the Ivy League championship," Carter said. "To achieve that goal on Senior Day of our final season is amazing."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity