August 25, 2009

Season Preview: Motivated Bulldogs Ready For 2009 Campaign

Season Kicks Off On Sept. 4 Against Wagner

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - 2008 was a frustrating season for the Yale women's soccer team. Five of the Bulldogs' seven losses came by one goal.

"In four of them, we were winning with 15 minutes left in the game," lamented head coach Rudy Meredith.

Meredith, though, is confident the issue has been addressed. As a result, he is optimistic Yale can return to its familiar perch at or near the top of the Ivy standings in 2009. With eight starters and 15 letterwinners returning there is evidence to support his claim.

"I think the players are motivated after finishing in the bottom half of the league last year," Meredith said. "We worked very hard in the offseason to improve team chemistry. The key for us is to work to make each other better. It must be a team effort for us to have a chance to win the league. The pieces are there. We just need to put them together."

That process began last Friday when the Bulldogs gathered for their first practice. Yale has three scrimmages before the season opener against Wagner on Sept. 4.

Defense should be the team's strength. The Bulldogs allowed only 21 goals last fall and posted seven shutouts. Many of the key defenders return, including senior Sophia Merrifield, the captain. Merrifield, who has earned All-Ivy recognition in each of her first three years, has started every game of her career. Seniors Hannah Smith and Caitlin Collins also have a wealth of experience. Smith has appeared in every game (51) since arriving at Yale, while Collins started a career-high 16 games last year and earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition

A pair of sophomores gained valuable experience on the back line last fall. Alana Gebhart was the recipient of the team's most improved player award, while Jacque Sahlberg appeared in 14 games off the bench. The defense also could be bolstered by the return of junior Lizz Reeves, who missed all of last season with an injury.

Two freshmen will try to step in and make an immediate impact. Torrey Leroy (West Hartford, CT) was a four-time all-state and all-league selection at the Westminster School.  Lauren Mathy (Kenilworth, IL) earned all-sectional and all-conference recognition at New Trier High School.

Yale's last line of defense should be strong as well. Junior Ayana Sumiyasu started all 17 games in goal last year and finished third in the league in saves (68) and was tied for third in shutouts (4). Sophomore Adelaide Gay appeared in five games and was the recipient of the team's Captain's Cup. Freshman Adele Jackson-Gibson (Buffalo, NY), a two-time league most valuable player selection at the Nichols School, adds depth.

The Bulldogs will feature a talented and experienced midfield. Senior Megan Ashforth, who was in her first year with the team after transferring from Virginia, started all 17 games and was a second team All-Ivy selection last year.  Junior Kate Macauley was bothered by an injury for much of last season but is a dynamic playmaker when healthy. As a freshman, she earned second team All-Ivy recognition after tying for fourth on the team in points. Sophomore Enma Mullo gained valuable experience as a rookie and could play a greater role this fall.

Freshmen Jenny Butwin (Old Westbury, NY) and Trish Berkanish (Oradell, NJ) bring strong credentials to New Haven. Butwin was a two-time all-conference selection at Wheatley High School. Berkanish was a two-time first team all-state selection at River Dell High School.

The biggest obstacle Meredith faces is replacing Maggie Westfal '09 and Emma Whitfield '09, who combined to score 14 of Yale's 30 goals last year. Fortunately, there are a number of forward candidates to fill the void created by their graduation. Junior Becky Brown led the team with 10 assists last year, which was only one shy of the school record. She also contributed five goals and earned second team All-Ivy honors. Senior Leslie Perez also is an established scoring threat. She tied for fourth on the team in points last fall.

There are two other forwards with experience. Junior Natalie Romine has 30 career games under her belt, while sophomore Miyuki Hino made an impact in her first season. Hino scored three of her four goals against Ivy opponents and was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection.

Freshmen Kristen Forster (Trumbull, CT), Mary Kubiuk (Barrington, IL) and Anne Song (Hudson, OH) will try and add offensive punch to the Bulldogs. Forster was a two-time All-New England selection at Trumbull High School. Kubiuk led Barrington High School in scoring for four years and Song is Western Reserve Academy's all-time leading goal scorer with 63.

New Haven area fans will have plenty of opportunities to watch the Bulldogs this fall. Twelve of the 17 games on the 2009 schedule will be played in the friendly confines of Reese Stadium, including the first five.

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity