When you think of water polo, you think of California.
So when the nation's top eight women's water polo teams convened for nationals this weekend, it was no surprise to see such squads as Stanford, UC-San Diego, and UC-Davis in attendance.
But those West Coast titans weren't clashing in their home state--they were tossing yellow balls around Harvard's very own Blodgett Pool.
And the Crimson was egg-beatering right there with the best of them.
The very best of them.
Thanks to the luck of the draw, Harvard's first two opponents Friday were none other than defending national champion Stanford and San Diego, a squad that had edged the Cardinal earlier in the year.
After dropping those first two contests by identical 20-3 scores, the Crimson bounced back to tie Bucknell, 11-11, Friday evening.
Harvard entered the consolation round Saturday and obliterated Ohio State, 21-7, before losing to Air Force, 13-11.
The hosts finished the tourney in sixth place, while San Diego swept to the top with a victory over Slippery Rock in Saturday night's final.
Friday's opening round served as a filter to select the four teams destined for championship play Saturday. And right from the start, the Californians demonstrated their complete domination of the game. With just 150 seconds gone in the first quarter of play against Stanford, Harvard was down, 4-0. And just four minutes into the San Diego contest, the Crimson faced a six-goal deficit.
"Both teams simply had much better players," Harvard Coach Chris Hafferty said.
And while the seasoned Californians romped, the Crimson had to make do without two of its top players: Stacey Moran (out with a broken nose) and Lynley Ogilvie, who hurt her eye just minutes into the Stanford contest.
But despite the large differentials against the West Coast powerhouses, the aquawomen battied back to tie a tough Bucknell squad.
Once again, Harvard fell behind early--but this time, it managed to catch up. The outside shooting of Co-Captain Kelley Withy--who scored six goals in the game--helped pull the Crimson to a 10-10 draw with just a minute remaining on the clock.
Fifteen seconds later, Emily Ozer hit a two-meter blast to put the hosts up, 11-10.
But a misunderstanding gave Bucknell an opportunity to pull back. With 10 seconds left, the referee called a foul on a Harvard player--who didn't hear the call in the commotion.
The refs awarded Bucknell a four-meter penalty shot--and the visitors converted to even the score at 11.
"The thing that made it particularly hard to take was that the call came in the last 10 seconds of the game," Hafferty said.
Saturday morning, another call threatened to hurt Harvard: Withy was ejected from the game in the middle of the third quarter against Ohio State because her fingernails were too long.
But with one leader out of commision, the other took command.
Co-Captain Catherine Ysrael pumped in 10 goals as the Crimson ran away from State. Ozer had seven assists for the hosts.
In the Air Force contest, Ysrael tallied four times in the losing cause.
With nationals, Harvard closes out its season with an overall record of 15-6-2.