Two years ago, then-No. 16 Harvard met then-No. 4 Wake Forest in the first round of NCAAs. The teams traded goals to knot the score at 3-3 when, in the second half, the Demon Deacons switched up their attack and scored three unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 victory, sending the Crimson home prematurely after its best season since 1991. Wake Forest lost to the eventual national Champion Maryland in the semifinals.
This year, each team enters the contest riding on a hot streak. Harvard (6-1, 3-0 Ivy) has won four games in a row while Wake Forest (7-2, 3-0 ACC) has a six-game winning streak, as well as an 18-game home win streak at Kenter Stadium.
The Demon Deacons may pose the greatest challenge the Crimson faces this year. Wake Forest has already defeated ACC rival and No. 1 ranked Maryland, and can boast a shutout over No. 2 Michigan. Only No. 13 Iowa and No. 8 James Madison have defeated the Demon Deacons this season, as Wake Forest sits atop the ACC.
“We understand that they’re a great team,’ said junior goalkeeper Katie Zacarian. “The important thing to remember is to play our game because we’re a great team.”
Wake Forest boasts a very experienced backfield, returning all three starting backs—Emily Ruth, Lucy Shaw and Lynne Shenk.
Katie Ridd, the Demon Deacons’ goalkeeper, is the reigning ACC Player of the Week, following a shutout of No. 13 Duke and after racking up a season-high nine saves against No. 7 North Carolina while allowing only one goal.
The Demon Deacons’ offense, however, is the biggest threat. Sophomore Kelly Dostel has been named ACC Player of the Week twice while leading the team with 7 goals and 16 points. Dostel was also the youngest player to be named to the National Team at age 17.
Junior Kelly Doton also plays a key role in the Wake Forest arsenal, along with one of the best set-up players in the nation, senior Maria Whitehead.
Trying to contain this offense will be a focal point for the Crimson.
“As a forward, it will be important to cover and help out the others on defense,” said senior Philomena Gambale. “It will take a mental effort and a commitment to defense to stop their threat.”
When the teams first met in 2000, one of Harvard’s strengths was its ability to keep games low-scoring and to emerge on top at the end of those contests.
This year is no exception. Harvard has outscored opponents 23-7 this season, signifying not only a smothering defense, but also a highly effective attack.
The return of junior Kate McDavitt from injury has been one of the biggest reasons for this offensive surge.
“We definitely have players like McDavitt who can put the ball in the net,” said Gambale.
McDavitt, the Ivy Player of the Week leads the team with 8 goals and 18 points. Harvard also has a well-balanced attack, as seven players have at least two goals.
The Crimson’s offense has helped Zacarian earn three shutouts this season. “If the game is like last time, it will be very intense,” Zacarian said. “If I can execute what I know needs to get done—being proactive in the goal cage—we should be in good shape. It’s exciting to play against this team because everyone gives their heart and steps up to the challenge.”
In addition to challenging Harvard as one of the most dangerous opponents in the nation, Wake Forest also presents the Crimson with a measuring stick before NCAAs.
“Now that we know what the NCAAs are like, we need to show that we deserve to be there again,” Gambale said. “Beating Wake would be a really good indication.”