Cornell Denies Yale’s Bid for Spot in Ivy Tournament, 12-5

The Yale huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Bulldogs' Season Ends with Defeat

ITHACA, N.Y. –A spot in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament was at stake Sunday afternoon at a rainy Schoellkopf Field as Yale took on Cornell in the regular season finale. The Bulldogs fell behind 6-2 in the first half but fought back to get within 7-5 with 12:18 to play. That was as close as it would get however, as the Big Red scored the final five goals of the game and earned a spot in the semifinals against Dartmouth next Friday with a 12-5 win.

Cornell (5-8, 4-3 Ivy League) was led by six goals from attacker Jessi Steinberg, including four in the first half. After a pair from Steinberg in the first four minutes, Yale (6-9, 3-4 Ivy League) got on the board when sophomore goalie Whitney Quackenbush made a save and junior midfielder/defender Kaitlyn Flatley took the ball up the right side on the clear attempt. Flatley kept going to goal and fired one high past Kristen Reese at the 24:46 mark.

After another goal from Steinberg, senior attacker Jessica Sturgill pulled Yale back within one by driving and making a nice move in the 8-meter fan for a goal at 19:32.

The Big Red took advantage of a Yale turnover at 12:49 to go up 4-2, prompting a Yale timeout. Cornell used that as an opportunity to send in Kyla Dambach in relief of Reese, a senior getting the start on Senior Day at Schoellkopf.

Steinberg scored again at 9:31, and a minute later the Bulldogs caught a tough break. Senior defender Claire Eliasberg appeared to have come up with a turnover just outside the crease, but a foul was called on the play. Attacker/midfielder Libby Johnson got a free position out of it, and turned that into a goal to make it 6-2.

After freshman midfielder Brittany De Lea helped force a Cornell turnover and also chased down a loose ball to prevent a Yale turnover on the ensuing possession, Sturgill buried a free position attempt to bring Yale within 6-3 with 3:16 left in the half.

The Bulldogs then had a pair of chances to score again. An offside call on Cornell gave Yale one possession and a caused turnover by junior defender Fielding Kidd gave Yale another, but the Bulldogs could not convert either possession into a goal.

Yale came out strong at the start of the second half, overcoming some bad luck early on when a shot by sophomore attacker Caroline Crow hit the post. After a save by Quackenbush on a free position attempt, freshman midfielder Devon Rhodes drove in for her 27th goal of the season.

Rhodes' goal made it 6-4 with 21:10 left, and after she got the draw control she set up Crow for another shot -- but once again the Bulldogs were denied by the goalpost. Crow responded by breaking up the Big Red clear attempt with an interception, but Flatley had her shot partially blocked and it sailed wide. Dambach then came up with a pair of saves on Rhodes, including one on a free position shot.

Steinberg continued to put on a show at the other end of the field, scoring again at 15:46 when she momentarily lost possession in front of the goal but was quickly able to pick up the ball and fire it past Quackenbush.

Sturgill answered with a free position goal two and a half minutes later, giving Yale a 3-1 run. There wound up being a span of 27:41 during the middle of the game in which the Bulldogs allowed just that one goal.

“We finally started to get some composure and run the offense,” said Anne Phillips, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse. “In the first half, we struggled with clearing the ball and we struggled with turnovers [10 of Yale's 14 turnovers were in the first half]. We were fine on draw controls, but the turnovers haunted us and came at inopportune times.”

Any chance of Yale keeping momentum after Sturgill's goal was eliminated by yet another unfortunate break. The random stick check after that goal resulted in one of Yale's sticks being ruled illegal, which gave the draw control to Cornell. The Big Red eventually got a free position shot that midfielder Katie Kirk used to extend the lead to 8-5 with 10:36 to play.

Senior defender Michele Fiorentino caused a Cornell turnover with nine minutes to play, but Yale then turned the ball right back over to the Big Red. Quackenbush made a nice save on a low shot by Steinberg, but the Bulldogs turned the ball over again right after that.

Cornell called timeout with 7:18 to play and began methodically running down the clock when play resumed. That forced the Bulldogs to start pressuring, and Johnson took advantage of that for a goal at 5:09 that made it 9-5. Steinberg scored again at 3:46, and the Big Red tacked on two more goals in the final 76 seconds to make the final 12-5.

Sturgill's hat trick wound up being the highlight of the game for the Bulldogs, as she finished her career with 66 goals -- 24th on Yale's all-time list. Sturgill also had four of Yale's nine draw controls for the game.

“In addition to scoring, Jess did some great things on the draw,” Phillips said. “She played well all weekend, including the game against Georgetown Friday night. She played her heart out.”

In the end, it was the final game for Yale's seven seniors -- Eliasberg, Fiorentino, Sturgill, attacker Jenna Block, midfielder Sarah David, attacker Lindsey DeMarco and midfielder Natalie Reid. The Class of 2010 finishes with 35 career wins, including 14 Ivy League victories, and one NCAA Tournament appearance.

“We talked in the locker room about all of the seniors,” Phillips said. “This class stayed together for four years through a lot of transition. They all contributed to the success of the program in different ways. We had hoped to have added playing in the first Ivy League Tournament to their legacy, but it wasn't meant to be.”

Quackenbush finished with six saves, giving her 145 for the year. That is the most by a Yale goalie since 2000, when Amanda Sisley '03 stopped 146.

Rhodes finished as the fifth freshman in school history to lead the team in goals (27) and points (35). Flatley was second on the team in both categories with 21 goals and 22 points, numbers that are all the more impressive considering that in her first two years -- playing primarily defense -- she had five goals in 32 games. Fiorentino's one caused turnover on Sunday gave her a team-high 20 for the year, a career high.

As a team Yale finished with a slight improvement in the won-lost column in Phillips' second season -- going from 5-11 overall to 6-9 overall -- but had numerous other signs of greater progress throughout the year. The Bulldogs knocked off then-No. 13 BU on the road, and came up with a thrilling last-second win over Brown on a goal by Flatley. They also downed archrival Harvard, and beat Columbia on the second-to-last weekend of the season to keep control of their chances for an Ivy League playoff spot.

Yale also started establishing Reese Stadium, which will be dramatically transformed by renovation this coming offseason, as a tough place for opposing teams to play. The Bulldogs went 3-1 against Ivy League teams at Reese, and the lone loss was a narrow 7-5 defeat to eventual league champion Penn. No other league team held the Quakers to fewer goals, and even five-time NCAA champion Northwestern allowed Penn eight goals.

With the margin for error to get into the Ivy League Tournament so slim, though, that one loss proved costly. Penn finished 7-0 in the league and will host the tournament starting Friday. Princeton beat Dartmouth Sunday afternoon, so the Big Green finished as the No. 2 seed at 5-2. Cornell and Princeton both made the tournament with 4-3 records, one game ahead of Yale.

“We went right to the end of the season in contention for a playoff spot,” Phillips said. “We've made some progress since last year. We're headed in the right direction, but there's still work to do.”

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity