Nov. 10, 2005
The Bulldogs host an NCAA College Cup game for the first time on Friday night. Yale plays Central Connecticut at 6:30 p.m. in the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium following the Duke-Fairfield game. Yale captain Eleni Benson recently took a few moments to answer some questions from the Yale Sports Publicity Office about the College Cup and her experience at Yale.
SPO: What was your reaction when you learned Yale would be hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA College Cup and what does it mean for the program?
EB: I was very surprised as I was under the impression that only the top 16 teams would have home games, and we have yet to be ranked in the top 16. I think we are extremely fortunate as we've been very successful at home this season, with fantastic fans and a great atmosphere. This is obviously a first for our program, and I think the fact that the NCAA committee takes us seriously enough to give us a home game is a testament to how far this program has come in the past few years. We've gone from barely making the tournament to actually hosting it.
SPO: What are your impressions of Central Connecticut, Fairfield and Duke since you've played against all three teams already this year?
EB: Central Connecticut is a hard-working team that plays very passionately and physically. Our strategy needs to be to play quickly, one and two touch, so that we can let the ball outwork them and avoid getting tackled. Fairfield gave us a tough time this year. They're well-coached and should give Duke a good game. Duke is one of the best teams we've played this season. They are extremely athletic and skilled and have proven themselves among the best in the country all year.
SPO: What are the keys to the success the team has enjoyed this year?
EB: I think our success can be attributed to several different things. Our team is very cohesive with great chemistry, which I believe is a product of [coach Rudy Meredith's] leadership. He strongly believes that we won't play well unless we're having a good time, but he's also competitive and believes that having a good time is synonymous with winning. He truly cares about each one of us, and we truly care for each other, so we're motivated to play both for him and for each other.
The freshmen have been a big part of our success, and they have contributed all over the field. However, the older members of the team have played a crucial role in setting the tone from the very start and having a team-oriented attitude. I think the key is that everything we've done has been a total team effort.
SPO: What is your most memorable moment from the season so far?
EB: There have been many memorable moments, but I think the feeling I'll never forget is right after we beat Dartmouth. There was a fantastic atmosphere with so many fans, and knowing that we had been able to bounce back after two horribly disappointing games (Penn and Columbia) and play our hearts out for each other made me so proud of our team.
SPO: How has the experience of playing for Greece in the 2004 Olympics helped you since returning to Yale?
EB: In general after having traveled so much and experiencing different cultures, I gained a new appreciation for the incredible opportunities available to us here in the United States and at Yale specifically, and a new perspective on what sort of things I'll remember and cherish 10 years down the road. Soccer is certainly one of the things that I grew to appreciate, as I had never before thought it strange or unique that it's socially acceptable and encouraged for me to play soccer as a girl, or that my family and community support and celebrate women's sports. It's so special for me to see so many of my friends and fellow students at our games, so encouraging and excited, because that's certainly something that doesn't happen everywhere.
On the field, my experiences playing internationally have helped me to mature as a player, to learn what my strengths and weaknesses are and to exploit my strengths while working hard on my weaknesses. I certainly have a renewed confidence after being on the field with some of the best players in the world, which is an important part of being a defender.
SPO:What are your plans for after graduation?
EB: I am still undecided, but I'm applying to spend a year with Mercy Ships, a Christian organization that runs a hospital ship off the coast of West Africa. If that doesn't work out, I'd like to do something similar, maybe medical missions or some volunteer work, and then tentatively apply to medical school.
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity