August 29, 2007

Outlook Bright For 2007 Bulldogs

Aug. 29, 2007

There were a number of positives during the 2006 season for the Yale women's soccer team. The Bulldogs finished with an 8-7-2 overall record, their sixth straight winning season, hosted national powers Duke and North Carolina at Reese Stadium and had a number of players earn post-season honors. Still, after winning the Ivy League title and reaching the third round of the NCAA College Cup in 2005, expectations were a bit higher. So shortly after a 4-2 victory over Brown in the season finale, the team made a point to put 2006 in the past and start focusing on the 2007 season.

"I think the main key to success in 2007 starts with forgetting about last season," said Mary Kuder, the team captain. "There's no reason to analyze what happened. It's unproductive and completely irrelevant. This is a new team and a new season, and I think a new mentality going into this season is absolutely essential."

There is certainly plenty of reason for optimism as the 2007 season approaches. Head Coach Rudy Meredith welcomes back 13 letterwinners from a year ago and has a number of talented players on both offense and defense.

"I'm looking forward to the season," said Meredith, the winningest coach in Yale history. "Practice has been very intense, which helps in the development of the players. We have a lot of experience and a freshman class that can contribute."

Meredith has once again put together a challenging non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs play five teams that reached the NCAA College Cup last year, including defending champion North Carolina and 2005 champion Portland.

"Our schedule is real tough," Meredith said. "We always try to use the beginning of the season to help prepare us for the Ivy League. Playing against such good teams shows us what our weaknesses are."

The 2007 Bulldogs will feature a balanced attack. Kuder, who was one of only four players to start all 17 games last year, has helped anchor a stingy defense in each of her first two years. With the graduation of Christina Huang '07, Kuder could play a greater role as a playmaker on offense this year as well.

Juniors Hayley Zevenbergen and Natalia Mann also both have a wealth of experience. Zevenbergen started all 17 games last year, while Mann has started every game of her Yale career. Sophomore midfielder/defender Sophia Merrifield was a second team All-Ivy selection last year. She tied for fifth on the team in scoring with four points (1 goal, 2 assists).

Sophomores Eliza Walper and Andrea Bouchard both made solid contributions to the midfield in their rookie seasons. Walper appeared in all 17 games and made two starts, while Bouchard started six games and scored the only goal in Yale's 1-0 victory at Harvard. Sophomore defenders Hannah Smith, Ali Giusto and Jacqueline Gantes also gained experience in their first year. Smith was one of only three rookies to appear in all 17 games.

Freshman Kate Macauley could make an immediate impact in the midfield. She was a two-time All-America selection and the Coca-Cola 2006 Connecticut Player of the Year at Wilton (CT) High School. Her older sister, Mimi Macauley '07, was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection for the Bulldogs last year as a senior. Freshmen Lizz Reeves, an all-state selection at Farmington (CT) High School, and Jessica Peterson will compete for playing time on defense as well.

Yale's last line of defense appears to be in good hands. Senior Susan Starr started 16 games in goal last year and was second in the Ivy League in saves (65), fifth in save percentage (.765) and seventh in goals against average (1.25). Freshman Ayana Sumiyasu brings strong credentials to New Haven. She played goal for the Japan Under-19 national team in 2007.

Offensively, the Bulldogs will feature a potent one-two punch of juniors Emma Whitfield and Maggie Westfal. Whitfield was a first team All-Ivy and second-team All-Northeast Region selection last year after leading the team in goals (5), assists (5) and points (15). Westfal earned second team All-Ivy honors. She was fourth on the team in goals (2) and points (6).

Sophomore Leslie Perez was hampered by injuries in her rookie year but is an offensive threat. Sophomore Caitlin Collins appeared in 14 games off the bench last year and scored the game-winning goal against Hartford.

A pair of freshmen will try to contribute up front as well. Becky Brown, who could also see time in the midfield, was a two-time first team New Jersey all-state prep player at the Lawrenceville School. Natalie Romine is second all-time in scoring and second in career assists at Tesoro (CA) High School.

Yale opens the season by hosting Bucknell on Friday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m. at Reese Stadium.

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity