2008 Season Preview: Experienced Bulldogs Confident

Aug. 28, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Natalia Mann, Maggie Westfal, Emma Whitfield and Hayley Zevenbergen started their careers at Yale in 2005 with a bang, helping the Bulldogs to an Ivy League title, a school-record 15 wins and a pair of victories in the NCAA College Cup. The Class of 2009 hopes their playing days at Yale come to an end with a similar dream season.

"This senior class is one of the most successful we've ever had," said Yale head coach Rudy Meredith. "They have a lot of experience and they know how to win. Whatever situations come up, they've dealt with them, and hopefully they can pass that knowledge on to the younger players."

The four seniors have been a part of 34 wins in their first three seasons. With a talented and deep supporting cast, that number figures to rise significantly in 2008 as the Bulldogs hope to again challenge for the Ivy title and earn a berth in the College Cup. Nine starters are back from last year's team that finished 11-6 overall and 5-2 in Ivy play.

"There are three keys to our success this season - talent, experience and chemistry," Meredith said. "I know we have the talent, and I know we have the experience, but you don't know about the chemistry until we all come together."

That process started on Aug. 22 with the first practice. The Bulldogs open the regular season on Sept. 5 at UConn at 7 p.m.

Whitfield, the team captain, and Westfal will lead a potent offense. The two have combined for 30 goals in their careers. Whitfield's 39 career points are the most of anyone on the roster. Last fall, she tied for third on the team in goals (2) despite being limited to only 10 games because of injury. Westfal earned first team All-Northeast and unanimous first team All-Ivy honors last year after finishing second in the league in goals (10) and points (24).

Mann and Zevenbergen anchor the defense. Mann has started every game she has played in at Yale, and her 53 starts are the most of anyone on the roster. She earned second team All-Ivy honors last year after tying for the team lead in assists with four. Zevenbergen has started 47 games but was limited to 14 games (11 starts) in 2007 because of injury.

Three other returning players earned post season recognition last year. Junior defender Sophia Merrifield was named first team All-Ivy and second team All-Northeast Region after starting all 17 games. Sophomore midfielder Kate Macauley earned second team All-Ivy recognition in addition to being named to the SoccerBuzz All-Northeast Region Freshman team. She tied for third on the team in goals and tied for fourth in points. Sophomore forward Becky Brown also was selected to the SoccerBuzz Freshman team and earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition. She finished fourth in the Ivy League in goals (4) and tied for fifth in points (17).

One of the strengths of this year's team should be its depth. On defense, junior Hannah Smith started 16 games last fall and has played in every game since arriving at Yale. Four other juniors - Eliza Walper, Andrea Bouchard, Jacqueline Gantes and Ali Giusto - all have at least 15 career games of experience. Sophomore Jessica Peterson also will contribute.

Up front, a pair of juniors should be scoring threats. Caitlin Collins appeared in all 17 games last year and tied for the team lead in assists with four. Leslie Perez started a career-high 13 games and tied for third on the team in goals (2). Sophomore Natalie Romine also will try and contribute. She appeared in 16 games off the bench in 2007 and scored her first career goal against Cornell.

Sophomore Ayana Sumiyasu is the only returning goalkeeper. She appeared in 12 games as a rookie and posted a 1.73 goals against average. Freshmen Adelaide Gay joins the team this year. She was a three-time first team all-state and all-league selection at the Lawrenceville School.

Five other freshmen will try to make an immediate impact. Alana Gebhart, a first team All-South Coast League selection at Capistrano Valley High School in California, and Jacque Sahlberg, who earned first team all-conference honors at Boise (ID) High School, add depth to the defense. Miyuki Hino, who scored 21 goals last year at the Sidwell Friends School in Maryland, joins the forward line, while Enma Mullo, a two-time all-league selection at Sacred Heart Academy in New York, and Lindsey Raymond, a first team Dual County All Star at Action Boxborough High School in Massachusetts, hope to contribute in the midfield.

In addition, Megan Ashforth joins the roster this fall after transferring from the University of Virginia. She appeared in six games off the bench for the Cavaliers last year and was a high school All-America selection at nearby New Canaan High School.

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Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity