For the Crimson, which has now made six consecutive NCAA tournaments, the expectation is to go far beyond just making it to the postseason.
The NCAA tournament begins on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. with a mismatch between Sacred Heart (10-9) and No. 13 Connecticut (16-5). The game between No. 23 Harvard (10-5, 4-3 Ivy) and Hartford (15-5) will immediately follow. The winners will play Saturday at noon. UConn, the eighth seed of the 64-team tournament, will host all three games.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in our bracket that we need to be afraid of,” said Harvard Coach Tim Wheaton. “And if you’re going to be a national champion, you got to play the best.”
The NCAA originally had planned to have all tournament games on Friday and Sunday, but UConn was already scheduled to host the Big East men’s soccer tournament on those days, so the women’s games were pushed to Thursday and Saturday.
Harvard was ranked second in the northeast region behind UConn in the most recent NSCAA poll—typically a high enough ranking to host an NCAA regional—but UConn was the northeast’s only team selected as one of the 16 NCAA host sites. The 15 other host sites were divided among the NCAA’s five other regions.
Four other teams from the northeast made NCAAs, but instead of forming a second Northeast Regional, the teams were used to fill out other regional brackets. Boston College will play at Nebraska, Dartmouth will play at Marquette, Syracuse will play at Illinois and Boston University will be bused down to Princeton.
“One of the things about our region is that we’re geographically close to a lot of regions, and even though B.U. goes to Princeton, they don’t have to fly there,” Wheaton said. “One of their objectives was to keep teams from flying and they were very proud that only eight teams [in the 64-team tournament] had to fly this time.”
Hartford is the most familiar of opponents for the Crimson. The two teams have met in the regular season each year since 1996, with Harvard winning the most recent meeting, 1-0, on Oct. 31.
Thursday will also be the teams’ third meeting out of the past four NCAA tournaments. Hartford beat Harvard 3-0 in the second round in 1998, and Harvard beat Hartford 3-0 in the second round in 2000.
“I guess [Harvard vs. Hartford] is becoming a tradition,” Wheaton said.
Harvard finished the season fourth in the Ivies behind No. 22 Princeton (13-2-1, 5-1-1), Dartmouth (9-4-1, 5-1-1) and Penn (13-1-2, 5-1-1), who finished in a three-way tie for first. The Crimson lost to all three teams at Ohiri Field.
Princeton had been in sole possession of first place for most of the season, but Penn’s 3-1 defeat of Harvard at Ohiri Field on Saturday afternoon, coupled with Dartmouth’s victory over Brown and Princeton’s 1-0 loss to Yale on Saturday night, set up the three-way tie.
Because Princeton beat Dartmouth head-to-head and tied Penn, while Dartmouth beat Penn, the Tigers earned the Ivy League’s NCAA automatic berth.
Penn 3, Harvard 1
Going into the 2000 Ivy season, only two teams—Columbia and Penn—had failed to beat Harvard in the history of their programs. But Columbia concluded last year’s season by beating Harvard , and Penn accomplished the same feat on Saturday afternoon.