With injured star senior defender Mike Lobach helping out on the sidelines in place of red-carded head coach John Kerr and his assistant Anthony Latronica, the Crimson (9-6-1, 3-3-1 Ivy) scored its most impressive win of the Ivy season with a 2-1 upset of then-No. 16 Penn.
The victory couldn’t help the Crimson, who had already been eliminated from both Ivy League and NCAA tournament contention.
It was very meaningful for the Quakers, however, who were denied an outright Ivy Championship after entering the game with a 5-0-1 league mark.
Harvard’s role as spoiler in 2002 was even more ironic given the reversal of roles from the end of the 2001 season, where it was Brown who denied the Crimson an Ivy League championship in the final regular season game.
“Last year, we came in with everything to win and we let it go,” said senior Charlie Morrow. “This year, we had a chance to beat the best.”
Harvard was in no position to challenge for the Ivy title in the final game this year after three straight losses to Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia had derailed its championship aspirations.
“It’s going to be a bad memory for [the seniors],” said junior Ladd Fritz. “I think they’ve had a lot of good memories here…the juniors, sophomores and freshman have to learn from this experience and be able to take advantage of next year because we’ve got a lot of people who want to win it next year.”
The start of the season held promise for the Crimson, who opened with a 6-1 record and 20 goals in its first seven games.
That effort was led by junior All-American Kevin Ara, who scored eight goals in that span to fuel Harvard’s high expectations. Unfortunately for the Crimson, Ara would score just once more all season and miss four of the final nine games.
Lobach, a first team All-Ivy and All-New England selection his junior year, joined Ara on the sidelines late in the season as injury limited him to playing in just seven of 16 games. Lobach’s absence left a large whole in the Harvard backfield.
The season started to unravel during the Crimson’s early-October west coast swing with 4-1 and 2-0 losses to the University of San Francisco and then-No.25 Santa Clara, respectively.
More importantly, however, the California tournament was the first indication of how Harvard would struggle through the second half of the season while short-handed.
“We still felt that even without [the injured players], we could have won the Ivy League,” said sophomore goaltender Jamie Roth. “But the injuries did hurt us a lot.”
Lobach, Roth and senior forward Grayson Sugarman all missed time due to injury, while Ara was red carded in the opener against USF and suspended as a result for the Santa Clara game.
The Crimson rebounded slightly from the disappointing west coast trip with a 2-2 tie at Cornell followed by victories over Holy Cross and Yale that left Harvard 8-3-1 and in the Ivy-title hunt with a 2-0-1 league record entering its final four games and the heart of its league schedule.