The Bears and Lions warmed up as if it were a playoff game. Their laser-like focus and energy shot through the sky. The women’s soccer team entered its Saturday evening matchup against Columbia looking to improve its record to 2-0 in conference play and further fuel a title run. Columbia wanted to do the same and continue its historic dominance over Bruno by winning its fifth straight Bear-Lion competition. In the end, the Bears continued their Ivy League win streak with a 2-0 victory over Columbia. The goals came during the 34th and 90th minute, respectively.
The first half opened with crispy white Columbia jerseys stacked against charcoal grey Brown Bear uniforms. A lot of back and forth resulted in flat but scrappy, skilled play — both teams were aware of what a win meant with an eye toward an Ivy League championship. Physicality was a defining feature of the first half in particular, as both teams earned yellow cards within a few minutes of each other during the 27th and 29th.
“We knew that (Saturday’s) game was going to be a battle with both teams yearning to go 2-0 in the conference,” said Head Coach Kia McNeill. “It didn’t take us long to match and even exceed their physicality.”
With 27 minutes left in the first half, Abby Carchio ’20 sent a free kick to her right and over to Zoe Maxwell ’22, who headed it home. A flag on the play kept both teams scoreless when referees ruled that Sydney Cummings ’21 was offsides.
Within a minute, Columbia turned the ball over. In typical Bruno fashion, the Bears made it a habit to minimize their own mistakes while also taking advantage of the opponent’s. Star White ’21 capitalized by kicking out a formidable shot, but Columbia goalkeeper Liz Matei easily caught the ball White sent directly to her torso.
Saves soon became the currency of both teams and a high, beaming sun neatly complimented the electric green goalie uniforms, accentuating their brightness with each leaping rejection.
With under 18 minutes to go in the half, White stripped a Lion and attacked with the intention of scoring. Columbia players double teamed her, mounting a scouted defense that undoubtedly had to respect White’s scoring ability. White was able to force a corner throw in, which was soon followed by a corner kick. It produced a shot attempt, but Matei inserted her hands into the jumping pack and came up with the ball.
Both teams were defensively minded with dangerously close shots that didn’t make it to the scoreboard. Columbia ran a well-executed play that involved forwards swooping down the wings and cutting across to score. The Bears deflected the shot to send it the other way, where White carried Brown’s offense for a four-minute stretch.
White attempted unsuccessful attacks from the left wing, but kept momentum in the Bears’ favor. Columbia’s defense worked to shut White down, and it was effective for a few of her schemes. But White adjusted: With under 13 minutes to go in the half, she stayed wide and, instead of moving in and shooting to score, returned a cross over to Brittany Raphino ’23. Raphino had just passed it to White and ran down the center of the box. Raphino put the ball in the top of the net, making Matei an afterthought. Columbia had not given up a goal since Sept. 15.
“Columbia started to (fall back) because it anticipated balls over the top,” White said about the adjustment that she and the Bears made. “It created more space for the outside forwards to (stay on the wings). It’s how we scored the first goal.”
Minute 38 saw Columbia launch a shot from the top of the box. What looked like a point for the Lions quickly became the newest triumph in goalie Kayla Thompson’s ’21 hands. She jumped beyond her stretch to double tap the ball into a solidified catch.
The first half closed not with Columbia trying to score, but rather trying to avoid a 2-0 deficit going into the second. A Cummings free kick brought Matei off her line in an attempt to make the catch. She fell, unsuccessful, and the ball found itself on none other than the foot of Raphino. Columbia’s Amalya Johnson acted as goalie and blocked Raphino’s open shot to close the half.
After half time, a setting sun greeted both teams back onto the field, immediately restarting the back and forth flow seen at the beginning of the first.
In the 55th minute, White caught steam on the left wing off a pass from Carchio. She served it into the box to Ava Seelenfreund ’23, who couldn’t get a clean shot off due to a lack of body control and nearby defensive pressure.
The Lions remained unable to send a real challenge into Thompson’s well-guarded net — which received critical assistance from Cummings, Cameron Brown ’21, Rachyl Francisco ’23 and Lauren Hintin ’22 in the back line. Most Columbia balls were way off the mark or already dying by the time they reached Thompson, who easily scooped them up as her team got into position to accept her delivery.
With 23 minutes remaining in the game, a Columbia cross kick from the right wing into the box slipped through Thompson’s hands after she was body slammed to the ground by Lion Cayla Davis, the same player who then headed the ball in to make the scoreboard. Just as soon as the point tied the game, the officials waved the goal off due to the collision.
The next eight minutes of the game were more or less uneventful. The 75th minute brought a Columbia attack that took Thompson off her line. Diving for the ball, a Lion maneuvered around her and shot it. In the blink of an eye, Cummings swooped in from out of nowhere and kicked the ball away, preserving Bruno’s 1-0 lead.
The final five minutes of the contest had Columbia stuck in its half-field defensive set because Bruno ran the clock out, drew throw-ins and took its time deciding who was going to take them, a tactic the Bears typically utilize to close out wins.
“It was sweet revenge,” Cummings said about the win. “We’ve had a hard time putting Columbia away and finishing out games.”
Saturday’s win felt “satisfying because we worked so hard in every part of the field,” she added.
Just when fans packed up to leave during the final 20 seconds of play, a right-winged Raphino tapped a short pass over to Maxwell, who drilled it left-footed from range over a floating Matei into the upper left corner for her first goal of the season.
“Winning these games is great,” McNeill said, “but we all have a goal of winning a championship. Each game is one step closer to our goal, but we have to take things one game at a time in order to get there.”
Bruno intends to secure another Ivy win against Princeton at home Saturday.