PRINCETON, N.J.—Forty-one seconds—that’s how close the Harvard women’s soccer team was to upsetting the No. 9 team in the nation on Saturday.
Instead, the Crimson (6-5-2, 3-2-0 Ivy) was left standing in disbelief on Lourie-Love Field after a devastating 2-1 overtime loss to Princeton (12-1-0, 5-0-0) dashed hopes of an Ivy League title.
With less than one minute remaining in regulation, Tiger midfielder Emily Behncke emerged from a scramble in front of Harvard’s net with the ball. After a quick dribble to her left, she kicked a low shot off the ground into the left side of the Crimson net to tie the game at one apiece and send the contest into overtime.
“I can’t believe there were only 40 seconds left,” senior forward Alisha Moran said. “It makes me sick to my stomach.”
And with 1:31 remaining in the second overtime, the Tigers came through again when Diana Matheson dribbled through the Harvard defense at the top of the 18 and knocked a quick pass to Behncke on her right. Behncke one-touched it to the top of the six-yard box where waiting Esmeralda Negron knocked it in for the golden goal and the sudden-death win, prompting the Princeton bench to clear and the hundreds of fans to erupt in elation.
The Crimson did have an open look on the net that could have won the match in the first overtime, but senior forward Emily Colvin shot the loose ball over the net.
“We’ve had problems scoring all season,” co-captain back Liza Barber said. “But we were confident that we could win the game. We were so excited that we had the chance.”
Harvard’s lone goal of the game came in the 52nd minute when sophomore midfielder Brittany Meeks took the ball inside the 18 and squirted a ground shot to the far right post to give Harvard the 1-0 edge.
But Meeks’ score was one of the few times during the game that Harvard managed to put pressure on the Princeton defense, especially after taking the lead. After that point, the pace turned even more frantic, and for the next 37 minutes, the Crimson defended its tenuous lead against the Tiger’s raging offense.
“We really went into defensive mode,” Moran said. “It totally changed the style of the game because it was no longer us pushing forward on offense and challenging them. We were really just doing our best to clear the ball and keep it out.”
Though outshot 7-3 in the first half, Princeton fired 14 more in the second, while Harvard had just two shots.
“[Our defensive mode] made it seem like they were in control and that they were bound to score at any point,” Moran said.
Junior Katie Shields, who recorded nine saves, played admirably in net for the Crimson, even after a large contingent of Princeton fans began following her around the field and began taunting her with chants of “Katie” and “Harvard sucks.”
“They’re not the nicest fans,” Barber said. “And they stuck with her and the defense the whole game.”
“She definitely kept us in the game,” Moran said. “The goals that went in just weren’t shots she could save.”
The win keeps the Tigers in first place, while the Crimson is now tied for third with Yale. The loss was especially painful since Penn—the only other Ivy team to beat Harvard this season—lost to the Bulldogs on Saturday. A win for the Crimson would have been a huge step toward securing at least a share of the Ivy title.
Harvard will look to salvage its quest for a long-shot NCAA tournament bid when it plays the NSCAA’s No. 2 regionally ranked team, UConn, at Ohiri Field on Wednesday.
—Staff writer Carrie Petri can be reached at email@example.com.