It was business as usual on Saturday for the women’s soccer team, which closed out its regular season with a 1-0 victory over Columbia (9-7-1, 3-4-0 Ivy). The win was the Crimson’s (8-5-3, 2-3-2) sixth 1-0 victory and 11th shutout of the season.
The lone goal of the game came off the head of sophomore midfielder Megan Merritt in the 25th minute.
Senior midfielder Maile Tavepholjalern squirted a pass to junior co-captain back Laura Odorczyk, who dribbled up the sideline. When she turned to center the ball toward the goal, her cross reflected off a Lions defender to set up a corner kick.
“[Odorczyk] created the chance for the corner,” co-captain goalkeeper Katie Shields said. “An outside back getting forward is always something you like to see.”
Sophomore forward Jamie Greenwald served the ball up from the right corner and connected with Merritt just in front of the goal.
“It was a heck of a serve,” Shields said. “[Merritt] just came in and found the back of the net. She came in calling for it, and it was a sweet finish.”
Greenwald, who came off the bench, has been battling an ankle injury that limited her playing time in Harvard’s previous two contests against Princeton and Dartmouth.
But the big story of the Crimson’s 2005 outing has been its defense, and Saturday’s game was no exception.
Shields and the Harvard defense notched their 11th shutout in 16 games, shattering Tracee Whitley’s 1987 record of nine shutouts.
“It was great to go out with a win for our seniors and get the 11th shutout for them,” Odorczyk said. “All of our seniors have been great this entire season.”
“I know this year’s defense is one of the top in the nation,” Shields echoed. “To get 11 shutouts, that’s an impressive thing to do. We trust the whole team defense from the beginning. It’s all 11 players on the field.”
The team approach to defense was well-tested in the 31st minute against Columbia when Jana Whiting broke free toward the Crimson net. After beating Shields, who came off her line, Whiting shot at the empty net. But Odorczyk trapped the ball on the goal line to preserve the shutout.
“I knew I couldn’t get to her, so I just sort of sprinted back to the goal,” Odorczyk said. “I didn’t even clear it. I just sort of tapped it. I was scared I was going to hit it in the net. Luckily [senior back Sara Sedgwick] was right there, so she cleared it. She was in the perfect position too.”
The scare helped motivate Harvard to finish the game strong.
“The girl was so close to scoring, so it just showed us that we had to play for the full 90 minutes if we were going to get the win,” Odorczyk said.
Shields picked up three saves in the record-setting 11th shutout. Her 68.75 shutout percentage places her in the nation’s top 10.
This impressive statistic may be the best chance Harvard has at winning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Yale, which clinched the Ivy title on Saturday, won the automatic bid for the Ancient Eight, but the Ivies have consistently sent two or three teams to the 64-team pool.
The Crimson hopes to repeat on last season’s good fortune, when it squeezed into the tournament with an 8-7-2 record after finishing 4-3 in the Ancient Eight.
“Last year, we had a very tough schedule and a very tough preseason schedule,” Shields said. “This year, we had a little better schedule and we tied some games we probably should have won. Winning this weekend, we put ourselves in a position to be considered. So, that’s nice to know.”
“Our coaches think we definitely have a chance,” Odorczyk said. “Whether or not that’s a great chance is up in the air. Last year was the same thing. We’re hoping, but we really don’t have any idea.”
Harvard will be hoping to hear its name called when the tournament bids are announced at 5 p.m. tonight.
—Staff writer Carrie H. Petri can be reached at email@example.com.