In 1996 the Harvard women's soccer team played out a dream of a season with a nightmare of an ending.
Entering the summer, the 1997 season held the promise of a dreamier ending, namely another Ivy title run through the NCAA tournament. Now, with First Team All-America forward Emily Stauffer taking the year off following a bone marrow transplant to her brother, Matt, who has leukemia (see full story in Friday's Crimson), this team's challenge is to prove that last season was not a one-woman show.
"We're used to having Emily take control and get a lot of attention, but that's not going to happen," Coach Tim Wheaton said. "The quicker we adjust and the quicker we realize that we're a good team by ourselves, the better we're going to be."
Stauffer, the two-time defending Ivy League Player of the Year and one of the most dominant soccer players in Ivy League history, will skip this season to help her brother through the recovery process.
She helped the Crimson roll through the 1996 regular season, in which the team amassed a 15-1 record, including a perfect 7-0 in Ivy League play, before suffering a crushing loss to Massachusetts in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Harvard entered the tournament ranked No. 10 in the nation, and its players had hoped to justify their ranking by beating then-No. 15 UMass.
Despite the loss of Stauffer, the team remains the favorite to repeat as Ivy champions and win a second-straight chance to get over the NCAA first-round hump. Harvard returns nine All-Ivy selections, as well as nine of its top 10 scorers.
"We definitely intend to go further in the NCAAs than we have, we should," captain Rebe Glass said. "I hope teams this year say, 'They lost Emily Stauffer, they're nothing,' and sit back a little."
All-Ivy senior Keren Gudeman and Honorable Mention All-America junior Naomi Miller will be expected to lead a talented Crimson offense from the forward spots. Gudeman shares the team record for career assists with Stauffer, and should add to that total by setting up Miller and the other Harvard strikers. Miller, the 1995 Ivy Rookie of the Year, takes over for Stauffer as Harvard's main scoring threat.
The Crimson's midfield was directly hurt both by Stauffer's loss and by the graduation of Dana Tenser '97, but senior Kristen Bowes and junior Devon Bingham, a First Team All-Ivy pick, should bring experience to the midfield.
Harvard's defense gets a sizable boost from the return of 1995 First Team All-
Should the ball advance past said backfield, it will likely be met by one of Harvard's two returning All-Ivy goaltenders, each of whom is almost certain to see time in the net. Junior Jen Burney- a First Teamer-takes a 0.74 goals-against average (GAA) and a .774 save percentage into the 1997 season, while sophomore Anne Browning-who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy-returns after posting a 0.54 GAA and an .810 save percentage. Junior Meredith Bagley remains a capable backup.
"In terms of who's going to start in goal, it hasn't been determined yet," Wheaton said. "It's just going to be a matter of who's ready to play that day, but we're comfortable with all three of them in goal."
With a deep core of defending Ivy champions returning, the Harvard women's soccer team will be no slouch in 1997.
"Emily is an outstanding player, but fortunately our team wasn't based around her," Glass said. "It wasn't all balancing on whether Emily had a good game or a bad game."
Whether the Crimson can overcome the loss of the most dominant player in the history of the program is a matter better taken up on Ohiri Field than in the pages of a newspaper.