October 20, 2011

Gaining Speed as Season Progresses

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Coming off last year’s disappointing last-place finish in the Ivy League, the women’s soccer team entered this season with a desire to improve. Although the team got off to a rocky start, it has clearly improved over the last few weeks as it moves into the final stretch of the season.

After the Red (2-10-1, 0-3-1 Ivy League) dropped its opening match to Fordham in overtime in the Bronx, 4-3, the team suffered three more defeats, losing to then-No. 3 Maryland, Colgate and Bucknell. Cornell was outscored by the three opponents, 8-0. However, the team halted its slide on Sept. 14, when, just after halftime in a home game against Binghamton, junior midfielder and forward Xandra Hompe slipped the ball past the Bearcats keeper and finally put one in the win column for the Red.

Unfortunately, Cornell could not duplicate its success against Binghamton and hit another rough patch, dropping contests to Marist, Hartford, La Salle and Ivy foe Columbia before earning a decisive home victory against Niagara on Sept. 25, 2-0.

“We haven’t had as many wins as we wanted,” said senior defender and co-captain Sidra Bonner. “Our play this year has been, without a doubt, the best overall play that we’ve had in the four years that I’ve been here … I think that the overall team chemistry is at a place where it hasn’t been in previous years.”

The 2010 Red (6-8-1, 1-5-1) finished last in the Ivy League, yet still managed six wins and finished the season with a plus-three goal differential. The team believes this year’s squad is playing better than last year’s, despite not earning as many wins.

The 2011 team has challenged itself against several highly ranked opponents, most notably Maryland. Although Cornell was blown out a few times, the team has primarily lost games by one- or two-goal margins, including several last-minute losses or ties that could have gone either way.

Following the win against the Purple Eagles, the team enjoyed a little rest before it switched gears into Ivy-mode, starting with a match in Philadelphia, Pa. against Penn.

Although the Red ultimately fell on a late goal by the home team, 2-1, the squad was able to hang with the Quakers, who are currently tied for second in the league.

However, the team gained confidence from that game, and entered into the following week’s contest against Harvard with a positive mindset.

“They’re the Ivy League leaders right now,” Bonner said.  “They’re undefeated in the league and we [were able to] go out and tie them … and not only compete but contend for the win.  It was an important game for us.”

The Red played its best game of the season against Harvard, staying with the Crimson stride for stride and quickly answering each Harvard goal with a score of its own, with the contest ultimately ending in a draw, 2-2.  Particularly stellar performances came from senior goalkeeper Megan Bartlett, who turned away 17 of 19 Harvard shots, and senior midfielder and co-captain Abigail Apistolas, who scored one goal and tallied an assist en route to winning Ivy League Co-Player of the Week — the first Cornell player to earn the award since 2003.

Following the Harvard match, the team traveled to New Haven, Conn., where it suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss against Yale, 2-1, in its most recent contest.

“Now we’re really playing the best we’ve ever played,” Hompe said. “We’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully get fifth in the Ivy League, which is somewhere we haven’t been before. That’s exciting.”

In order to reach that fifth-place spot, the Red will need to maintain its current level of play against Ancient Eight rivals Brown, Princeton and Dartmouth — Cornell’s three remaining opponents.

Original Author: Zach Waller