In what many believed was going to be a rebuilding year, the Harvard women's soccer team shocked everyone but itself by roaring to one of the most successful seasons in the program's history.
Despite fielding a roster with a strong, deep corps of experienced seniors, Coach Tim Wheaton and the Crimson (14-2-1, 7-0 Ivy) found themselves relying on a host of talented freshmen to guide the team to victory from the season's outset.
Four rookie players found themselves in the starting lineup from the beginning of the season--unusual for the Harvard program--and several others saw heavy action. With such an inexperienced group thrown into the NCAA soccer fray, expectations of inconsistency and anxiety naturally arose. But to the surprise of most doubters, the freshmen proved up to the task.
"We definitely had more confidence in ourselves then the rest of the community did," co-captain Jess Larson said. "You can never be sure of how freshmen will play, but as soon as we saw them in practice, we knew we would be fine."
The Crimson opened the season with a 4-1-1 start, with its only loss coming against a weaker New Hampshire squad on the road, in a game where the freshmen were not permitted to travel and play because of first-year orientation.
After battling to a 1-1 tie against then-No.13 Hartford on a miserable day at Ohiri Field, Harvard became virtually unstoppable and won the last 10 games of the season. Included in the run were victories over Top 10 opponents Brigham Young at home and Connecticut on the road.
The Crimson also cruised to a perfect 7-0 Ivy record, including a 2-1 victory over defending Ivy League champion Dartmouth, avenging a loss at the hands of the Big Green the year before. Harvard finished the regular season with a 4-0 victory over Brown to complete its undefeated Ivy League season and to claim the league crown.
"At the beginning of every season we get together as a team and set our goals, and this year winning the Ivy was definitely at the top of our list," Larson said. "It was especially nice for us to come back and win after losing last year to Dartmouth."
Harvard finished its sensational regular season ranked No. 9 in the country and No. 1 in the Northeast, thus earning a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament.
In the second round of the tournament, Harvard hosted a Boston College team that it had defeated 4-0 on the road just a month before. In a stunning upset, however, the Eagles frustrated the Crimson offense, defeating Harvard 1-0 and prematurely ending its season.
"I definitely feel that having so many starting freshmen without a lot of experience affected us in the tournament," Larson said. "But our freshmen were incredible all year and we wouldn't have made it to that point without them."
Despite the disappointing end to its season, the team's performance was clearly a great success considering its early-season expectations.
The Crimson entered the season with the daunting task of replacing a stellar cast of senior stars. Among those lost to graduation were midfielder Emily Stauffer, forward Naomi Miller and backs Jaime Chu and Devon Bingham, all perennial All-Ivy selections.
The loss of its Second Team All-Ivy goalkeeper Anne Browning--who left the team to concentrate on crew as a senior--further added to Harvard's worries.
Led by co-captains Larson and Beth Zotter, however, the 1999 version of the Crimson proved itself a worthy successor to the previous year's squad.