Yale stuns No. 3 seed Duke in women's soccer
There are games where the final score sums up all you need to know.
And then there are games where a simple tally of goals or points is woefully inadequate, like reducing Bob Dylan's songs to notes on a sheet of paper.
The scoreboard shows that Yale upset No. 3 seed Duke 2-1 on Sunday to advance to the third round of the NCAA women's soccer tournament. But those numbers reveal little about one of the most dramatic endings in the tournament's history. Like saying the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Oakland A's 5-4 in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series or Colorado beat Michigan 27-26 on the gridiron in 1994, the score alone deprives those were weren't on hand of an amazing story.
Anyone in attendance on Sunday won't soon forget the game's frantic final seconds, culminating in Yale senior Laurel Karnes putting the ball in the back of the Duke net with just one second remaining.
In those final seconds, what had been a hard-fought battle to see which team would advance to face defending national champion Notre Dame became a series of images that will immediately enter the sport's lore. It was a game people will remember for years -- which, if you stop and try and recall a second-round game from any recent tournament, is saying something.
After braving frigid temperatures on Friday during first-round encounters with Central Connecticut State and Fairfield, respectively, Yale and Duke took the field on Sunday under far friendlier and quintessentially New England fall conditions. That No. 3 seed Duke found itself playing between the hedges in New Haven, and not at home in Durham, N.C., will surely be a point of contention in the offseason, but the selection committee's curious decision is now just one more piece of the legend.
Neither team seized control of the game in the opening minutes, with end-to-end action producing several scoring chances but no goals. Duke's players loudly pleaded with each other to find the team's "rhythm," but it was the home team which first appeared to gain some momentum, as Yale students, either arriving fashionably late or having just woken up, filtered in throughout the middle stages of the first half. What had been a largely neutral crowd turned into a decidedly partisan environment for the home underdogs, as the stands filled and the noise intensified.
Still, the 0-0 halftime score hardly seemed an unfair assessment of either team's performance.
The same cannot be said for Yale's first encounter with Duke this season, when the Bulldogs lost 1-0 in a game where the Blue Devils took a first-half lead and outshot their opponent 17-4. But that season-opening trip, which also produced a 1-0 loss to perennial power North Carolina, was evidence of where Yale coach Rudy Meredith thought his program was headed. And on a weekend when Connecticut suffered a surprising first-round loss, Yale was suddenly presented with a chance to turn an emerging profile into a legitimate national contender and arguably the region's preeminent women's program.
Duke struck early in the second half, turning a long sequence of possession deep in the Yale end into a goal when Darby Kroyer pounced on a loose ball that Yale goalie Chloe Beizer was unable to control and the Bulldogs defenders were unable to clear. But Yale refused to fall back on its heels, as an overmatched Fairfield team had against the Blue Devils on Friday. The Bulldogs immediately pressed the attack. An apparent equalizer just seconds later, during a scramble following a free kick from just outside the penalty area, was nullified by an offsides call, but Yale tied the game at 1-1 soon thereafter, when Natasha Mann scored on a blistering strike from near the edge of the box.
The rest of the second half provided more of the same back-and-forth momentum that dominated the first half, with Beizer making a key late save for Yale and sophomore Mary Kuder taking a starring roll in stalling a number of Duke attacks with poised clearances. So even as Yale pushed back into Duke's end with less than 30 seconds to play, it seemed evident that game would move to overtime.
A throw-in deep in Duke's end offered Yale tis last chance in regulation, but valuable seconds ticked off the clock while the linesman cleared an extra ball from the playing field. The throw was finally allowed as the clock hit 11 seconds, and an aborted attempt on a bicycle kick by a Yale player seemed to freeze the Duke defenders nearest the ball's destination. Yale's Crysti Howser took advantage of the opportunity, settling the ball before sending it across the front of the goal, where an unmarked Karnes buried it in the back of the net.
Even as Duke players sank to their knees where they had stood on the field, chaos ensued as students rushed the field from both sides of the stadium. One second was left on the clock, but all that remained after the field had been cleared was a final futile kick from Duke.
Undaunted, Yale students proceeded to rush the field for a second time.
Minutes after that final second ticked off the clock, the two ends of the stadium offered dramatically different pictures.
In front of the home team's bench, fans, players and coaches mingled in revelry, each perhaps needing the other to confirm the reality of what had just happened. They drifted away slowly in small groups, smiles and laughter gradually replacing frenzied jubilation. There would be stories to tell and most importantly, at least one more game to be played.
Alone on the other end, Duke's team stood together, each senior making her way around the circle in a farewell to teammates and coaches that came sooner than they -- or most observers -- had expected.
The enduring images from games like these come from the victors: Bryce Drew's 3-pointer slipping through the net against Ole Miss or Samantha's Findlay's extra-innings blast for Michigan in this spring's Women's College World Series. But often the most enduring images from the immediate aftermath of such epics come from the entirely human and completely honest reactions of the defeated.
The final score doesn't tell the entire story of Yale's miracle, but it also doesn't paint a fair picture of the Duke players who for 89 minutes and 59 seconds thought, and played as if, they would come out on top. The tear-stained defiance and pain on the face of Kate Seibert and the stoic resignation on the face of Carolyn Riggs said as much about the dramatic conclusion as the celebration on the other side.
A senior playing what turned out to be her final game, Seibert battled through a hard fall early in the game, playing in some apparent pain but going full steam through the final whistle. And while exuberant celebrations have become the norm in sports, and even the sight of fans storming the field no longer offers any guarantee of a truly monumental outcome, one look at Seibert's face in her final moments in a Duke uniform offered sad testimony to the truly remarkable nature of Saturday's game.
The final score tells you who won, but it doesn't tell you anything of Karnes' heroics, Meredith's statement or Seibert's pain. And how they all add up to a game for the ages.
You can e-mail Graham Hays at email@example.com.
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