March 11, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - When the Yale women's lacrosse team relocated to Reese Stadium for the 2009 season, it was a move made with both the present and the future in mind. As the facility undergoes a major renovation, the Bulldogs hope their young team grows along with it. Yale's first game at Reese Wednesday afternoon provided a glimpse of the possibilities, as the Bulldogs shut down a potent UMass attack for a memorable 7-4 win. Freshman goalie Whitney Quackenbush led the way with 14 saves.
"This was a great way to open at Reese Stadium," said Anne Phillips, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse, who was also making her home debut as Yale's head coach. "We made the move here because it's a great surface, and the renovations will be beautiful. It's a new team, a new offense and a new stadium, and to have a big win like this to start off was great for the program."
UMass (2-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10) was coming off of two wins over Ivy League teams, having knocked off Harvard 13-12 and upset then-No. 13 Dartmouth 13-10 a week ago. Yale (2-3, 0-0 Ivy League), meanwhile, had dropped three in a row after opening with an 11-10 overtime win at Fairfield. The Bulldogs needed an early offensive spark, and it came from junior attacker Jessica Sturgill. While being fouled, she managed to get off a shot that eluded UMass goalie Katie Florence and gave Yale a 1-0 lead at 25:32 of the first half.
That marked the first time all season Yale had scored the first goal of the game. In fact, the Bulldogs had trailed by as much as 4-0 to start three of their first four games.
"One of our goals today was to get the lead and not have to play from behind," said Phillips. "We wanted to control the tempo. By being settled offensively, that helped our defense settle."
The patient Bulldogs worked the ball around the field each time they got into the attacking end, waiting for their chance. Sturgill delivered another goal at the 21-minute mark, and two minutes after that set up junior attacker Jenna Block for a goal that made it 3-0.
Quackenbush then made her first big stop of the day, denying a low shot by midfielder Haley Smith at the 12:30 mark. Attacker Holly Drown finally got the Minutewomen on the board at 9:05, ending nearly 20 minutes of shutout lacrosse for the Bulldog defense. It would be more than 24 minutes before UMass would score again.
The Minutewomen were looking to get within a goal when junior defender Michele Fiorentino drew a charge and ended a UMass possession with eight minutes left in the half. Fiorentino's play looked even bigger when sophomore midfielder Logan Greer scored with 4:45 left to put Yale up 4-1. Quackenbush made the final big defensive play of the first half by intercepting a pass near the cage with a minute to go.
Quackenbush's denial of a free position shot by midfielder Danielle Pelletier got the second half started off right for Yale, and the Bulldogs then extended their lead with a textbook example of teamwork. Operating on the left of the fan, Sturgill put a perfectly-placed feed right in the crosse of senior midfielder Jenn Warden for a "quick-stick" goal directly off the pass that stunned the Minutewomen and energized the Bulldogs.
That wound up being the only goal for Warden, who had scored at least three goals in each of Yale's first four games. But her contributions on Wednesday went well beyond that one play.
"That was just a pretty goal," Phillips said. "Jenn was face-guarded the whole game, but she still directed the offense and really helped us take advantage of the face that UMass face-guarded her. She kept leading and directing her teammates, and they stepped up."
After Quackenbush made a huge save on attacker Nina Sarcona from right in front of the cage with 21 minutes left, junior midfielder Sarah David converted a free position shot to give Yale a 6-1 lead with 20:16 to play. UMass called timeout and then had a free position attempt a minute later. Smith fed a wide-open Sarcona in front of the cage, but Quackenbush adjusted quickly and made another big save.
The Bulldogs then took the ball down the field and got another goal from Greer, whose contributions Wednesday were all the more impressive considering that just 10 days ago she was finishing squash season - where she earned All-America honors and a No. 4 spot in the national individual rankings. And when Greer did return to the lacrosse team, she started as a defender before moving to midfield shortly before the UMass game. With five Bulldogs sidelined by injury, Greer has been a versatile and much-needed addition to the roster.
"We couldn't wait to get her back from squash," said Phillips. "She is such a great athlete and helps us so much in transition. When she came in, we put her on defense because we could teach her that the quickest. But gradually, she's been learning the offense and we've been able to move her to midfield. She has good decision-making ability and has become that steady presence that we needed."
Providing a steady presence at the other end of the field were Yale's defenders, Fiorentino, junior Claire Eliasberg, sophomore Augusta Hixon, sophomore Fielding Kidd and junior Natalie Reid. For most of the game that group all but erected "Do Not Enter" signs in the 8-meter fan.
"Claire had some key 1v1 stops," said Phillips. "We had her on a dangerous crease driver. Fielding was solid, as she has been in every game for us. Michele came up with some big caused turnovers, including drawing that huge charge near the end of the first half. And Augusta was big on the clear [Yale was 13-for-15 on clears], helping us get the ball out of there."
And when the Bulldog defense did let a Minutewoman through, Quackenbush was there. While UMass did score three times in the final 15 minutes, that figure would have been much higher if not for the five-foot-10-inch presence in Yale's net. Quackenbush's 14 saves Wednesday, including 11 in the second half, were the most by a Bulldog goalie since Ellen Cameron '08 stopped 15 against Cornell two years ago.
After denying another Smith shot with 17 minutes to play, Quackenbush caught a free position shot by Pelletier in her crosse with 13 minutes left. Her last big stop came with six minutes to go when midfielder Jackie Lyons, UMass' leading scorer, dodged her way past a Yale defender but came up empty against Quackenbush. Lyons had 12 goals and 16 points in the first five games but was held scoreless Wednesday.
"Whitney made some big saves, some point-blank saves," Phillips said. "The first half was the best our defensive unit has played all year. They worked so well together. We knew UMass had some big guns. We knew what we needed to defend against and what we needed to fix defensively. We played a more composed defense, let them bring the attack to us, and were successful in it."
The Bulldogs remained disciplined at both ends of the field through the end of the game. With 30 seconds left and UMass desperately trying to get the ball away from Yale's attack, Florence was caught ranging far from the cage when sophomore attacker Myra Trivellas earned a free position attempt. With an open net in front of her, and the prospect of a shot at her first collegiate goal, Trivellas instead chose to pass the ball and give her team a chance to run the clock out, which the Bulldogs did.
"Some teams would have shot that," Phillips said. "But at that point, we had played hard and UMass had played hard. There was no need to tack on an extra goal, or risk losing possession. Myra did the right thing. We want to win with class and sportsmanship."
The Bulldogs then streamed onto the Reese Stadium turf to celebrate the win, which gets them off to a good start in their new facility. Reese Stadium has big shoes to fill, as the Bulldogs racked up a 179-64-3 record at their previous homes (Johnson Field for the last nine years and Yale Bowl before that). Their arrival at Reese, which was initially built in 1981 and is home to the Yale men's lacrosse team and both Yale soccer teams, comes at a time when both the team and the facility are in the midst of a transformation. The new Field Turf and lighting system are just part of the changes that Reese is undergoing, with a new entrance plaza, team rooms, seating, press box and more coming soon.
Likewise, the Yale players have been learning a new system under Phillips and her staff, and Wednesday happened to be their best game yet. Maryland, currently the No. 2 team in the country, is the only other team that has held UMass to four goals so far this season.
"We were poised on attack and poised on defense," Phillips said. "With a whole new staff, we have a whole new system for our players to learn. Today, we got a sense of who we are. We played disciplined and composed, even though UMass pressured us all over the field. We still have some work to do, but we've made a big step forward."
Yale visits No. 5 Penn Saturday at Noon.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity