"This was a final for us," Crimson men's soccer Coach Jape Shattuck said, "the Ivy League championship final."
Plain and simple.
John Catliff--just returned from an injury-induced year's absence from the collegiate scene--powered Harvard to a stunning 4-1 victory over Columbia at Ohiri Field with a hat-trick-plus-one performance Saturday.
It was a victory the Crimson had been looking for ever since 1978--the last year Harvard triumphed over Columbia, and the first year of the Lions' incredible eight-season lock on the Ivy League crown.
Catliff's four goals--along with the booters' near-flawless defensive performance--erased all questions about the potential of this year's Harvard squad. That potential was barely tested Wednesday, when the Crimson cruised to a 3-0 decision over cross-town non-rival MIT.
But Saturday, Harvard proved its mettle in the big-time.
The convincing three-goal victory established the Crimson as odds-on favorite to grab its first Ivy League crown since 1970. But other league contenders--notably Cornell (which played Princeton to a 1-1 tie over the weekend) and Brown (a 1-0 loser to Yale)--will have their sights set on the Ancient Eight's new frontrunner.
Meaning that Harvard can't coast through the coming weeks on euphoria alone. And while Catliff has sparkled on the forward line, Shattuck stresses that his squad still has room to improve--especially with contests against national powers Connecticut and Hartwick looming in the near future.
"The disciplined defenders set the stage for individual players to shine on offense today--but all of our attack so far has been freelanced," Shattuck said. "Now we've got to get to work creating an offense. Today we saw the efforts of one. Two weeks from now I hope to see six people scoring."
Catliff has amassed five goals and two assists in his first two games. Last season's leading scorer, Lane Kenworthy, recorded six goals and three assists--in 15 contests. If he continues at his present pace, Catliff could threaten Harvard's single-season goal-scoring mark of 18, set in 1971 by Felix Adedeji.
Saturday's onslaught began 11 minutes into the first half, when Catliff lined a pass from linemate Drory Tendler into the upper right corner of the net.
Goal number two came at 32:48, while tallies three and four (both headers) followed at 34:30 and 79:24. Columbia's lone score on Harvard netminder Stephen Hall came on a screen shot midway through the second half which cut the lead to 3-1.
"It's a better balanced Harvard team than we've had before," Shattuck said. "Never before have we had this many people organized to this degree, as far as defending goes. Our strength was our organization--it was like a 12th man for us."
Columbia's disorganization, on the other hand, rendered the visitors incapable of mounting any sustained offensive drives.
"The problem with Columbia--it's a strange problem," Shattuck said. "They've got so many talented players, it's going to take them a while to determine which group of 11 they want on the field, and then get that group stabilized. It's difficult to make those choices, but once they do they're going to be very strong."
But Saturday, all the talent in the world would have been no match for John Catliff. And Columbia was no match for Harvard.