Second Guessing the 'Sag'

Will Power

The Tufts women's soccer team travels to Cambridge this afternoon seeking its first win ever over the Crimson booters.

The Jumbos (What is a Jumbo?), in five games against the four-year-old Harvard varsity squad, have never defeated their southern neighbors.

Considering the Harvard women's soccer cumulative record of 51-11-2, Tufts doesn't have to worry that it is the sole owner of that dubious distinction. Indeed, back in 1977, the Jumbos hosted a tournament and even managed to tie the Crimson eleven, 1-1.

Since then, Bill Gehling's booters haven't fared so well, dropping 3-1, 5-1, and 4-0 decisions. Last year, in an effort to reverse that losing trend, the Jumbos instituted the infamous "Tufts sag"--a positioning of as many as eight defenders in and around the penalty area to ward off the Harvard forwards.

The strategy backfired as the Crimson outshot the Jumbos 27-2, and shut out the hosts, 2-0, at Medford. What's even more embarrassing is that both Harvard tallies were actually knocked in by Tufts fullbacks hovering around the goal.

This year may prove different. With 12 veterans back from last year's 4-6-1 squad, the Medfordites opened the season with a convincing 7-0 shellacking of Bates last Saturday. Could it be a sweet farewell to the "sag" for the Jumbos? Gehling wasn't giving out any of his secrets yesterday, but certain facts are clear.

Sophomore Lisa Raffin, who notched 11 goals last season, is the major Tufts offensive threat at rightwing. Midfielders Judy Hinchley and co-captain Page Crutcher lead the attack, which Gehling evasively describes as "a combination of short control passing and quick counters when appropriate."

When Gehling added that his squad's offense "depends on the other team's style," I began to wonder about his plans. Does he intend to surprise the Crimson with an "adjustable reverse sag?"

Harvard coach Bob Scalise, who scouted Saturday's game, refuses to take any chances against the Tufts team. Scalise will have Honorable Mention All-American fullback Kelly Gately shadow Raffin. This tactic worked very well in the Crimson's 4-2 triumph over Springfield College Friday night when Gately completely shut down Chief winger Vicki Hebeler.

Scalise also had to be pleased by his booters' strong comeback, particularly in the second half, after falling behind 1-0. Co-captain Cat Ferrante attributed much of Harvard's early sloppy play to Springfield's astroturf which is "faster" and harder than natural grass. The Crimson can forget the artificial carpet for this year because B.U., the only other school on the schedule with a synthetic surface field, travels to Cambridge in two weeks.

Ferrante also cited better communication on the field, particularly between the freshmen and the returning players, as a reason for recent Crimson success. "We talked a lot more against Springfield than against Bowdoin," said the lithe halfback, adding, "We're starting to play much more of a team game."

The Yardlings account for five of the 11 Harvard starters, despite missing the rigorous preseason week of triple sessions. As the Class of '85 contingent gets into shape, the Crimson, which has already chalked up two consecutive victories in the young season, should become even tougher.

So come on down to the Business School Field at 3:30 today to see what Gehling and his Jumbos have in their bag of tricks. Sag or no sag, Harvard should produce most of the game's magic.