When two elite soccer teams are so skilled defensively that they neutralize front-line talent, it often takes an unheralded player with the courage to make a play beyond her years to win the game. On Saturday night against previously unbeaten Princeton, freshman midfielder Sara Sedgwick answered that call and made the most important play of the Harvard women’s soccer team’s season.
After two halves and an overtime of scoreless soccer filled with physical defense, clutch goalkeeping and near-misses, Sedgwick made the perfect header off a corner kick to ruin the record of the last remaining perfect team in Division I women’s soccer.
As soon as junior midfielder Katie Westfall delivered the 105th-minute corner kick high across the field, Sedgwick knew she had the best angle to drive it home. In a matter of seconds, Sedgwick called off her teammates and rocketed the ball up into the top left corner of the net.
The Princeton defenders, who had been keying in on the Harvard players within yards of the net, never knew what hit them. They had no chance to stop Sedgwick from where they were positioned. They had vastly underestimated Sedgwick’s abilities in the air, and that cost them their perfect season.
The end result was no surprise to Harvard coach Tim Wheaton, who had long recognized Sedgwick’s ability.
“Sara Sedgwick is great in the air,” Wheaton said. “We’ve been working in practice and knocking balls around. She got up and wracked one. It was a great goal to win.”
Sedgwick felt that a score off a corner kick would come her way sooner or later.
“In practices recently, I’ve been connecting pretty well on all those headers, so I felt pretty good going up for it,” Sedgwick said. “And I thought, at some point, one of these is going to go in, because we got a whole lot of corners that we weren’t converting on.”
Sedgwick has been no stranger to dramatic goals this season. In Harvard’s second game of the year against Central Connecticut, she came off the bench in the waning moments of the first half and scored the eventual game-winner with her first touch of the ball just as time ran out.
Within a few games, Sedgwick became the first freshman other than the goalkeepers to work her way into Harvard’s starting lineup.
The goal against the Tigers was Harvard’s biggest off a corner kick since then-freshman Liza Barber buried one in overtime to beat then-No. 17 Marquette a year ago.
Corner kicks and other set pieces were key to Harvard’s 8-1 start last year when the team averaged a set piece goal per game, but outside of that stretch, the results haven’t been there over the past few years.
Sedgwick’s goal is a sign that the Crimson could be vastly improved. Since Sedgwick and Barber are proven threats at winning balls in the air, they’re capable of scoring goals themselves or drawing enough attention to allow someone else to step up.
But regardless of what happens for the rest of the season, Sedgwick has already affirmed herself as the player who delivered the clutch finish that finally earned Harvard a positive result against ranked opposition. She put the Crimson back on the winning track, and in doing so, she kept the team’s hopes alive for a seventh straight NCAA tournament berth and another Ivy title.
—DAVID R. DE REMER