The 18th ranked Harvard men's lacrosse team (3-0) has a tough road ahead over spring break. With away games against national powers Duke and Penn, and against Fairfield at home, the Crimson will have to do its utmost to protect its perfect record
Harvard will look to build off of its thrilling, 8-7 victory over Hobart on Wednesday as the rest of us head out for vacation.
"We proved that we don't have to play perfectly to win games," Harvard Coach Scott Anderson said.
Certainly, the win over Hobart was not a pretty one offensively. Although it scored eight times, the inexperienced Crimson attack couldn't muster anything out of its set offense. Instead it relied on goals out of loose ball or transition situations.
Duke (4-2), ranked 9th nationally, has been very impressive thus far this season.
The Blue Devils have posted wins over 8th ranked Maryland by the score of 9-8 and 6th ranked North Carolina by the score of 13-8 this season.
On the other hand, Duke lost to Brown 10-9 in Providence RI in its only encounter with an Ivy League opponent thus far this season.
The key for Harvard against the Blue Devils may be offensive production against a very stingy Duke defense.
Opposing teams have managed to convert just 25% of their extra-man advantage situations into goals against Duke this season.
Considering that Duke converts 65% of its man-advantage opportunities, the Crimson may be hard pressed to come out on top if it can't muster some offense against a set Duke defense.
But before Harvard can go on offense it must clear the ball out of its defensive end. The Crimson has struggled at times this year to get the ball to its attackmen.
Penn (3-2, 0-1 Ivy), ranked 19th in the nation, has had an up and down season. The Quakers beat 13th ranked Notre Dame and 20th ranked Bucknell earlier this year by scores of 10-7 and 5-4 in overtime respectively.
However, Penn lost to North Carolina 13-6 and in the following game lost to Yale 11-10.
"Even though Penn lost to Yale," Anderson said. "They are a very good lacrosse team and we have to be prepared for them."
Penn may be a better match-up for the Crimson than Duke because the Quakers rely on a streaky offense to keep them in games.
Penn is capable of putting up six or seven goals in one quarter but it relies on its offense to keep it in games because of its leaky defense.
The Quakers have a new goalkeeper this season, sophomore John Carroll who does a solid, but unspectacular job between the pipes.
Harvard's senior laden defense and outstanding senior goalkeeper Keith Cynar should be able to match-up man-to-man against the Penn offense.
The Crimson offense should continue to improve against a similarly inexperienced Penn defense.
Harvard plays Fairfield (2-3) in its sole home contest of the break on the 28th of March.
The Stags are not a team to be taken lightly even if they are not as good as Penn or Duke. Fairfield only narrowly lost to North Carolina 12-11 in the season opener.
The Stags can put the ball in the net. In its two wins Fairfield has posted 14 and 19 goals. Fairfield, like Penn, can score in spurts.
Against 11th ranked Cornell, the Stags scored three times in the first seven minutes of the game. Harvard's man-to-man defense will have to rise to the challenge here if the Crimson is to win.
Offensively, Harvard should be able to remedy some of its offensive woes against a Fairfield defense that has given up 12, 15 and 19 goals in its three losses.
PAC-10 powerhouse UCLA showed Harvard's rustiness, sweeping the Crimson in a three-game set in Westwood, Calif. last weekend. During the series, the Bruins (14-10) managed seven home runs off Harvard pitching, including a ninth-inning game-winner by junior right fielder Rob Lyon off senior reliever Derek Lennon in the second game. UCLA also struck out 41 Harvard batters, led by a 16-strikeout performance from junior Rob Henkel, one of the top arms on the West Coast.
The Crimson's young infield may be topmost among Harvard Coach Joe Walsh's concerns, since it sports three first-year starters--catcher Brian Lentz, second baseman Faiz Shakir and third baseman Nick Carter--sandwiched around tri-captain Erik Binkowski at first and sophomore Mark Mager at short.
The infield made four errors at UCLA, including three by Carter, who was pencilled in as the starter at short last year before a weak-hitting spring cost him the job. Walsh, who loves to shake up his defenses, especially early in the season, will also try sophomore Josh San Salvador--a full-time DH last year--in the infield.
The depth of its pitching carried Harvard last year, and holdovers John Birtwell and Ben Crockett were the top two on that staff. Birtwell was banged up in his start at UCLA, surrendering five earned runs on six hits through 2.2 innings, but the junior has the nastiest stuff in the Ivy, including a two-seamer, four-seamer, change and breaking ball--which he throws from a variety of arm angles. Crockett, who shared Ivy Rookie of the Year honors with Princeton's Chris Young, consistently throws his fastball in the high 80's, and mixes in a curveball and a sidearm fastball that righthanders found virtually unhittable in 1999. Crockett allowed just two earned runs while striking outo five through six innings at UCLA.
The challenge for Walsh will be getting mileage out of his workhorses while breaking in his B-flight starters, who will probably include sophomore Justin Nyweide and junior Dan Saken, both of whom made several mid-week starts last year.
The Crimson's spring schedule includes Ohio State, Kansas State, Florida Atlantic and Miami, before it opens Ivy play with doubleheaders at the Gehrig Division's Cornell and Princeton April 1 and 2.
Off to its best start since 1997, the Crimson (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) face a pair of monumental challenges next week against two Top-10 teams.
The Crimson travel to No. 1 Maryland next Thursday before taking the field opposite No. 10 Yale in New Haven.
Defending national champions Maryland cruised to an easy 21-3 victory over Harvard in the team's only meeting last season.
While the Crimson aren't expecting an upset, Harvard Coach Carole Kleinfelder hopes the team can come away from next weeks game better for the experience.
"I want the team to come away from Maryland with a sense that we can stay in any game," Kleinfelder said. "Maryland blew us out last year. They know what it takes to get to the top, and I want our players to feel like we can play with that kind of team."
More important than the non-conference match-up with Maryland, however, is the match with Yale, which has early season Ivy League implications.
With a 5-2 record in 1999, the Bulldogs finished third behind No. 4 Princeton and No. 9 Dartmouth last season. Harvard needs a win against Yale over spring break to have a legitimate chance at finishing amongst the top three teams in the Ivy.
As well, a win over a top-ranked team would likely catapult the Crimson into the national rankings itself.
The Crimson blew a 5-3 halftime lead last season against the Bulldogs en route to a narrow 10-9 defeat, but Harvard has performed much better in close contests this season and has legitimate shot at knocking off the Elis.
Harvard has the momentum entering the contest. Yale barely squeaked by Penn, 10-9 early this week while the Crimson have been rolling.
The Crimson edged Brown 11-10 this week in its Ivy league opener, and erased a late three-goal defecit with four unanswered goals in the final ten minutes to down UMass 7-6 in the season opener.
The Crimson will likely need similar last minute heroics against Yale, but with a little luck, Harvard may emerge from spring break with a perfect Ivy record and a Top-20 national ranking.
Three weeks ago, the Harvard softball team was run out of Georgia faster than you could say "Pass the cornbread". The Crimson dropped all five of its games in that weekend's National Fastpitch Coaches' Association Leadoff Classic, and was outscored by its opponents 35-5.
This weekend, Harvard (2-6) hopes to redeem itself in the Peach State as it travels to Marietta, Ga. to participate in the Buzz Classic. The tourney begins a busy week of competition for the Crimson, who will play Virginia and Radford next Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, before participating in a tournament at Virginia Tech next weekend.
Today, the Crimson face Maryland and Mercer in the opening rounds of the Buzz Classic.
Fresh off a two-game sweep of Georgia Tech on Tuesday, the Terrapins (14-13) are led by sophomore pitcher Amanda Bettkar (7-6, 1.54 ERA), who has allowed just 66 hits in 91 innings of work.
Mercer (14-14), meanwhile, has taken a nosedive recently after starting out the season with five straight wins. As of yesterday, the Bears had dropped 12 of their last 18 games.
For Harvard, junior ace Chelsea Thoke and sophomore hurler Suzanne Guy, who combined to start 30 of the Crimson's 38 games last season, will be heavily relied upon to quiet the bats of the opposition.
The tandem will be tested early, as Mercer features a proven slugger in the form of freshman third baseman Stacey Nagle, who leads the team in home runs (8) and RBIs (27).
Coastal Carolina (14-18), another Crimson opponent in this weekend's tournament, boasts four starters with averages above .300.
Tomorrow, the Crimson faces Coastal as well as Southwest Missouri State (10-11).
After the Buzz Classic, Harvard will travel up the Atlantic coast for its first-ever meetings with Virginia (10-22) and Radford (3-25).
Those contests will be followed by three days of games in the Hudson-Hokie Classic in Blacksburg, Va.
The Crimson's fiercest competition at that tourney will likely be Virginia Tech, who enter this weekend riding a 22-game winning streak at home.
The Hokies' pitching staff, which has held opposing line-ups to four runs or less in all but two of its games so far this season, will challenge the Crimson's ability to produce runs.
Harvard captain Deborah Abeles, who homered in last weekend's win over St. John's, and sophomore Sarah Koppel, who went 2-for-2 in that game, will have to have strong days at the plate.
If the Crimson can indeed upend the Hokies (17-9), it will stand in good stead as it readies itself for the start of the Ivy season on April 8.
Harvard (8-6) has lost four of its last five dual meets and desperately needs some wins before it starts the Ivy League season in April. Playing four matches next week, the Crimson will be lucky to pull out two wins. The first team it faces is Santa Clara (7-4), which should be an easy win.
However, the next match will be against Stanford (10-0). The Cardinal is ranked No. 3 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, and for several weeks held the top spot. Harvard, in contrast, has dropped from Top-25 a few weeks ago to a distant No. 66. Stanford gives Harvard match-up problems up and down the singles lineup, but its biggest advantage comes from its top-ranked doubles team of Geoff Abrams and Alex Kim.
Later in the week Harvard will face off against University of California-Berkeley, another nationally ranked team. The Bears (6-3) have come off some big wins against Clemson and BYU recently, and are looking to ride that momentum to a win over the visiting Crimson. California currently has an ITA ranking of No. 48.
Finally, Harvard travels to Stockton, Calif., to face the University of the Pacific (10-2). The Tigers may be the hottest team the Crimson will face, as they are riding a six-match winning streak, including wins over higher-ranked Louisville and University of California-Irvine. Those wins propelled Pacific from No. 62 last week to No. 36 in the latest ITA rankings. The Tigers are led by their No. 1 singles player, Dietrich Haug.
The Crimson cannot afford to leave without wins over Santa Clara and at least one of the higher-ranked teams. When the team returns it will jump right into Ivy League play. Two road trips in the past two weeks, to Kentucky and Alabama, respectively, have yielded little in the way of wins. But the sunny California weather may be exactly what the Crimson needs to get itself going again.
This year, while it may be difficult to match the excitement of a well-placed kiss from Bob Barker or the mystical allure of Plinko and the Showcase Showdown, the men's volleyball team has a serious chance of turning heads on the court as well as off of it.
Heading into a week chock full of both competition and relaxation, the Crimson (10-4, 6-2 EIVA) seems to be firing on all cylinders.
Last week, fueled by stellar performances by seniors Joe Herger and Ed Pankau, Harvard eradicated a three-match losing streak by rattling off four straight victories to maintain first place within its division.
Also, Harvard will have its full arsenal at the disposal of Coach Tom Wilson. The Crimson had previously been handicapped by crucial injuries to Micomonaco and sophomore outside hitter Justin Denham, but will boast a healthy roster in California.
In the Golden State, Harvard will play four matches in four days. The first three will be played against Cal Baptist, Santa Barbara Community College and La Verne.
The final match of the California road trip will be against Long Beach State, the top-ranked volleyball team in the nation.
Faced with such a daunting challenge, many expect the Crimson to only win a few points here and there en route to a Long Beach State sweep. However, if Harvard can maintain its intensity and focus heading into Spring Break, then the Crimson may surprise a few people by hanging close with Long Beach State.
Should a massive upset occur, Harvard will not have long to rest on its laurels. A couple of days after the Long Beach match, the Crimson will be travelling to play EIVA rivals Eastern Mennonite University and Columbia Union in matches that will determine the EIVA divisional playoff picture.
With two wins, Harvard would win the Odeneal Division of the EIVA and would be guaranteed a berth in the playoffs in mid-April.
Faced with all of this pressure, the men's volleyball team can take solace in the free days in the sun it will have in California.
And should some lucky Harvard athlete again grace "The Price is Right" stage in Television City, be sure to say "Hi" to Bob from all of us at Harvard. Oh, and remember to bid one dollar when the person next to you bids $1000 on a Walkman.