Unshaken by a three-game losing streak, the Harvard women’s soccer team begins its quest for the Ivy League crown with the league opener at Brown tomorrow night.
Despite narrow losses to nationally- ranked Washington and Portland this past weekend at the Nike/Husky Invitational, the team is optimistic about the upcoming game.
“Any time we can play top-level opponents it helps us prepare for the games that really matter to us,” said coach Tim Wheaton, noting that the players’ focus has been sharpened through their exposure to the upper echelon of collegiate soccer.
Although the team left the tournament without a victory, Wheaton believed the team learned intangible lessons from playing the top teams.
In each of the past two years the Crimson (2-3, 0-0 Ivy) has followed losing streaks to top-25 teams with losses to unranked teams, but the players are confident that the close tournament games have helped them to improve.
“It showed the level we want to play at and are capable of playing at,” said assistant coach Gregory Rusk. “Ever since Portland, the level of intensity at practice has been stepped up.”
Rusk cited Harvard’s late-game dominance over Portland as proof that the team is performing at a top-10 standard.
The Crimson will try to carry over this intensity into tomorrow night’s showdown with the Bears. A recent Ivy League bottom-dweller, the Bears (3-2-2, 0-0-1) opened its Ivy season with a tie versus Columbia. However, returning Harvard veterans recall the startling upset two years ago in which Brown stunned the Crimson 2-0.
In its last game, the Bears lost 2-0 to Providence College despite a superior offensive assault. Senior captain Caitlin Carey led the team with four shots on goal, and looks to be a decisive threat against the Crimson defenders. Brown has already strung together a three-game winning streak in this young season and the Harvard players are anticipating a tough match.
For the Crimson, it is a relief to get back to the familiar, if fierce, conference rivalry after intense contests against three straight ranked opponents. Back in familiar territory, the team will draw on last year’s 4-0 crushing victory, in which it out-shot the Bears 19-4. The Harvard offense will look to senior forward Joey Yenne, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, to penetrate Brown’s tightly organized defense and create the scoring opportunities lacking in the past few games. Along with Yenne, senior forward Beth Totman and junior midfielder Katie Westfall have formed the principal offensive attack this year, Wheaton was quick to point out that production has come from all sides.
“We have been getting goals from all positions, including several of the freshmen. The strength of this team is in its depth,” he said.
Westfall added that while last year the Crimson had only three subs, this year’s team boasts seven players who can step in and contribute solid minutes.
This week in practice the team has been concentrating on getting the midfielders and forwards behind the defense in order to strike early and gain momentum. Armed with their newly-gained experience against stronger and faster teams, the players feel ready for the start of Ivy play.
“It’s a night game, under the lights. It couldn’t be a better environment,” Westfall said. “We’re mentally prepared.”