Field Hockey To Host Wake Forest in First Round

After tuning the television to the DirecTV broadcast of the College Sports Television selection show, the members of the No. 16 Harvard field hockey team squeezed themselves into a trio of sofas. In a comfortable room above the ice at Bright Hockey Center, the Crimson had to anxiously wait until the final quarter of the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed to at last learn the opponent and site of its first-round game.

And even then, amazingly, it was not immediately certain.

When Harvard name was finally called, the scene quickly evolved into a series of busy cell phone calls and excited glances. The players were thrilled to learn they will be serving as host of the East region, where they will be joined by No. 3 Wake Forest, Connecticut, and Northeastern.

A scheduled opening-round clash against the defending champion Demon Deacons could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the eager Crimson squad.

“We’re psyched,” junior midfielder Jen McDavitt said.

After milling about for several minutes, the majority of the team departed in nervous anticipation of this Saturday’s playoff encounter, the first for Harvard in two years and only the fourth in school history.

Only McDavitt and captain midfielder Kate Gannon lingered with the team’s coaches when someone noticed that Big East conference rivals Connecticut and Boston College were slated to play in the other first-round game at Harvard.

By NCAA rules, teams in the same conference are not permitted to meet at that stage of the tournament, but thanks to some kind of error by the selection committee, Harvard’s schedule was thrown into question.

“Ooh,” McDavitt said. “Drama.”

Minutes later, the fog lifted as BC was replaced by Northeastern and the Crimson’s meeting with Wake Forest was confirmed.

Make no mistake, though: amid the confusion, the Harvard players were not wishing to replace the number two seed Demon Deacons on their docket.

“I’d almost rather play Wake Forest than UConn, because they don’t hold the same edge over us,” Gannon said, referring to a 3-1 loss to the Huskies on September 22.

Although the Crimson shares less of a history with the North Carolina-based Demon Deacons than its customary New England opponents, Harvard and Wake Forest have a track record nonetheless.

The Demon Deacons, then seeded fourth, bounced the Crimson from the NCAA Tournament in the first round in 2000 by a margin of 6-3. Then, in regular season action in Cambridge in 2002, Harvard scored first before eventually falling to the ACC powerhouse, 3-2. That season, Wake Forest went on to capture the first of two straight national championships. The school will seek to make it a three-peat in 2004.

“They’re a very talented team, a great hockey team,” head coach Sue Caples said. “And we’re excited to have the opportunity to play against them.”

The Demon Deacons are 16-3 entering the tournament this weekend. Although they may be without head coach Jennifer Averill, who is nine months pregnant, the team is still led by senior forward and ACC Offensive Player of the Year Kelly Dostal. As a measure of recent comparison, Wake Forest bested a Michigan team by two goals that the Crimson fell to by the same two-goal margin.