The Harvard women's waterpolo team is heading into uncharted waters this weekend at the national tournament in Providence.
The fifth-seeded Crimson headed of to Brown last night for the tournament, which begins this morning and concludes with the national championship game Sunday. This is the first time Harvard has ever qualified for Nationals. Harvard opens the tournament today at 12:20 p.m. against fourth-seeded U.C.-Davis. None of the team members, including Coach Chris Hafferty, are familiar with the Davis team.
"Chris thinks its good [that we don't know anything about Davis] because it helps us think just because they have better tans and are from California doesn't mean they play better water polo," Harvard Tri-Captain Kathy Kitayama said. "We're not intimidated because we don't know what we're up against."
Hafferty will squeeze in some spying time during warmups by talking to some of the California coaches and scoping out other practices, but spying doesn't seem all that crucial to him.
"I'll talk to coaches about Davis, but most likely they'll [Davis] be cocky saying, `Hey, we're from California, so look out,' and we'll catch them with some good water polo and beat them," Hafferty said.
The Crimson's undaunted attitude will be put to the test later today when it battles top-ranked San Diego St. at 7:30 p.m. Like the Davis team, the San Diego squad is an unknown entity. Finally, Harvard will conclude its round-robin first round Saturday against the only team in its bracket which it has faced before--eighth-ranked Brown. The Crimson has beaten Brown in the team's past three meetings.
The other bracket includes Slippery Rock, U.C.-Santa Barbara, California Polytechnic and Michigan. The top two teams from each bracket will advance to Sunday's Final Four.
"Faster, Quicker, Stronger"
Hafferty noted that the competition this weekend will be "faster, quicker and stronger" than what the Crimson is used to, but Tri-Captain Kate Ford is not concerned.
"Our biggest weakness usually is that we play at the level of our opponents," Ford said. "But with this competition, this will help us a lot."
In preparation for the tougher teams, Hafferty had to take it easy on his beaten-up squad the week after Easterns, but practices shifted into high gear this past week as the Crimson tightened its defense and sharpened its shooting.
Hafferty expects his squad to execute its double-down on the whoe set while it seals up the gaps on the perimeter. The Crimson has also been working on its press defense, which caused problems against Slippery Rock in the Eastern finals.
Hafferty also noted marked improvement in his team's outside shooting since Easterns, along with greater patience on the power plays. In order to reinforce this patience, Harvard will sport a new look on its power plays by swinging three swimmers up top, instead of two, so that they can better set up a play and slow the tempo.
Not all is well with the Crimson, though. A stomach virus has swept through some squad members, sidelining standout goalie Mel Berger and freshman sharp-shooter Jen Gahan for the past week. Hafferty expects to have both in the lineup today.
THE NOTEBOOK: The All-Eastern squad was announced and Harvard took more than its share with five honorees. Tri-Captain Gillian Salton was named to the first team, while Tri-Captain Kathy Kitayama and freshman Skyler Satenstein were tapped for the second team. Tri-Captain Kate Ford and Gahan received honorable mention.