An End of an Era
The close of the Harvard women's lacrosse season meant more than just the end of a season. It is the end of an era.
Six seniors--Joey Alissi, Emily Buxton, Sarah Downing,Kelly Morrison, and the co-captains, Francie Walton and Margot McAnaney--hung up their jersey for the last time after the loss to Loyola on May 14.
Their play defined the team this year. All six, even the attackers, defended mercilessly with cracking stickchecks.
The rest of the Crimson watched and learned. Harvard had the lowest--by far--goals against average in the Ivy League.
It was also the first class since 1989 never to taste a national championship, as it arrived a year after the triumph of 1990. And this was the year that the six would go out in style, returning to Cambridge from the Final Four holding an NCAA trophy.
That, unfortunately, did not happen.
Early in the season, though, the team fared well. In the first game to the season, it destroyed BC, 24-4, and then in its second and third games, it dismantled Penn and UMass without much difficulty.
But in the fourth game, against Princeton, the team ran into trouble. The game with the Tigers, the eventual National Champions, would turn to be the team's first loss, and a one-goal loss to boot.
The team didn't hang its head, though, and proved it by beating Old Dominion and Temple over spring break. Once school started against the team followed the victories with an unconvincing win over Yale, during which junior Megan Colligan sustained a leg injury that seemed to be nothing serious but turned out to be a broken bone. The injury did not heal until the playoffs.
Next came Harvard's second setback, which was a miserable loss to Loyola in which a poor call by a referee gave Loyola a free possession at point-blank range, staring right at freshman goalie Kate Schutt. Final score: Loyola11, Harvard 10.
It would get worse, though. After a victory against New Hampshire came the low point of the season. In a game that was originally postponed due to rain, the Crimson was blown out by Maryland, 11-2. Everything that had made Harvard a national power before eluded the Crimson that day. It was truly a nightmare.
It was impossible to tell how the team would react. The upcoming games were against weaker Ivy League opponents, but still,it is not easy to survive a loss like the Maryland game.
Harvard would win its next four games convincingly.
First Brown fell 13-2. Then Cornell by the score of 10-5. Vermont would be next at the chopping block with a 13-8 loss.
The fourth game was against Dartmouth. At this point in the season, Princeton was on top of the Ivy League with an undefeated record, and the Crimson and Big Green had 4-1 league records. Their upcoming matchup would determine who would make the playoffs.
Harvard played is best game of the season. The final score was 11-4, but it might as well have been 184-1. Dartmouth's two leading scorers were held to one shot.
"We did it when it counted against Dartmouth," Walton says.
The Crimson was as high as a kite. While other students were stressing about exams, the lacrosse team was licking their chops at another opportunity to play Loyola in the playoffs.
And this time the officials would be NCAA sanctioned, as opposed to the bend-for-yourself method used during the regular season.
Loyola, however, also got better. The Greyhounds played a complete game, denying the Crimson the ball on offense and continuously searching for holes in the Harvard defense.
Loyola won, 11-4, and the team that could beat anybody couldn't.
The year was not a total loss, nor was it even a partial loss. The one Dartmouth game proved to be enough to send out the six seniors.
"For me it was a really special year," Walton says. "The six seniors were a close-knit unit, and all good friends. I'll never forget the Dartmouth game--that's part of what lacrosse is all about."