The women’s soccer team entered Saturday’s game against Cornell leading the Ivy League with an 11-1-1 record and a dominant presence on the field.
To start the matchup, the eighth-Ivy-ranked Big Red stood in the patch and took a defensive approach, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Bears from earning a 2-0 shutout victory to extend their winning record to 12.
Right off the cuff, Cornell’s defensive strategy was evident, as they declined to kick the ball back to their own team and instead floated it over to Brown to relinquish possession. The Big Red’s main goal was to stop Brown from scoring one.
Not even two minutes into the game, Cornell’s strategy proved unsuccessful. Sydney Cummings ’21 sent a long ball from the back field to the front, and Star White ’21 and Brittany Raphino ’23 sprinted after it, outpacing three Big Reds. Raphino wound up with possession. Cornell goalie Chrissy Mayer respected her scoring power a little too much, and ran off her line in hopes of catching the ball off the dribble instead of after a potential shot attempt. But Raphino took advantage of Mayer’s lapse in judgment. She shot high as Mayer dove for the block and netted the ball home.
“She made a mistake there,” Raphino said about Mayer’s play.
An early score made the next 15 minutes a string of back-and-forth possessions with neither team in absolute attack mode. And even when Cornell did execute with purpose, Brown’s backline held firm. Any Big Red ball inside the box soon became a Brown ball going the other way, despite the Bears’ flat level of play.
Cornell “had a lot of (scoring) opportunities,” said Lauren Hinton ’22. What “helped us a lot was staying disciplined with our clearances and following the second ball every time when it would pay off for somebody.”
With around 30 minutes remaining in the half, a competitive spirit reinvigorated the game. Cornell sent in a long free kick, and Brown headed it away to Big Red midfielder Evanthia Spyredes, who sent in a formidable shot that Kayla Thompson ’21 had to work to block. She dove and slapped the ball to another Cornell foot, and the backline pounced and came up with it.
“If things didn’t go our way initially,” Hinton said, “we stayed disciplined and kept working through the play. We also had (Thompson) being great today, just catching a lot of balls for us and helping to direct.”
This play sparked momentum on both sides, as each team produced more shot attempts and increased defensive pressure. Both goalies racked up saves, defending their nets as a last resort after balls passed through the backlines. If they did not make a block, then shots came in too wide. Brown looked to find its footing and settle into a rhythm that generated more goals.
The last five minutes of the half saw Cornell mount attacks that had Bruno on its heels and forced Thompson to make difficult saves from solid shot attempts. It also featured a lot of fancy footwork by Bears that resulted in turnovers or misplays. Cornell competed as if they had nothing to lose, and Brown played as if it came into the game ready for a steam roll that it hadn’t yet achieved.
“We wanted to come out strong early, and I think we did just that,” Cummings said. “After we struck that goal, we sat in too much. We weren’t bumped up enough in the midfield and played down to (Cornell’s level) and let them dictate play. We regrouped at halftime, and everybody was in agreement. Our goal (going) into second half was to be better.”
The second half opened with routine quarrels that sent balls the other way. Cornell’s backline rose to the occasion and mirrored Brown’s in its defensive pressure and stoppages of plays.
“We knew that Cornell wasn’t going to be the best,” Raphino said, “and we shouldn’t have dropped to their level, but we did. So we just have to focus on coming in ready like there’s a title on the line.”
During the 60th minute, Cornell’s Victoria Bubrick tackled Ava Seelenfreund ’23 along the right wing, and the referees rewarded Brown with a penalty kick. Raphino took it patiently, waiting to shoot until what felt like a lifetime after the whistle was blown. Her ball kissed the back of the net, giving Bruno an advantage of two to close the game.
“As we are successful from week to week, the pressure (to perform) just builds more and more and more,” Hinton said. We’re “expected to perform every game and have a target on our back. Every team in the Ivy League wants to beat us.”
The Bears hope to withstand Penn’s shots at the targets on their backs during Saturday’s home game, which also serves as the team’s Senior Night.