A collective exhale and shout could be simultaneously heard around New England on Nov. 6.
For on this day, the Harvard field hockey team defeated Columbia, 2-0, and grabbed a share of the Ivy League title, ending Princeton’s 10-year chokehold on the crown.
By all accounts, this was a strange thing to have happened. An odd time, an unlikely place, an improbable team.
The Crimson had graduated its top scorer (Kate McDavitt ’04) and assists leader (Mina Pell ’04), its all-time record-holder for shutouts (Katie Zacarian ’04), and Harvard’s first-ever first team All-American, the best defensive player in school history (Jen Ahn ’04).
But the Crimson, led by its senior class—including captain Kate Gannon, midfielder Shelley Maasdorp, forward Tiffany Egnaczyk, netminder Aliaa Remtilla, and backup goalie Anne Haig—would show that it had more than adequate replacements.
Harvard reeled off four straight wins to open the year, outscoring its opponents 16-3. Included was a 3-1 victory over Ivy foe Penn, a win that would prove eminently important later in the year.
The Crimson rose to a No.16 ranking, only to fall to Maine and then-No. 6 Connecticut.
A win over Brown preceded a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., where Harvard topped Northwestern but stumbled against then-No. 8 Michigan.
The Crimson returned to Jordan Field and was again felled by a ranked opponent, losing 3-0 to then-No. 10 Northeastern.
Ivy dominance continued with a pair of victories over Cornell and Yale, but yet another ranked team—this time then-No. 12 Boston College—bested Harvard.
With its immaculate 4-0 Ivy record, the Crimson traveled down the familiar road to Princeton, N.J. The Tigers, sporting a 4-1 league record, were in a position to take the helm of the Ivy standings with a win over Harvard.
But Crimson midfielder Jane Sackovich scored a goal with 18:55 remaining in the game, and Harvard held the same 1-0 lead with only three minutes left on the clock. Just when it seemed the Crimson would finally topple the mighty Princeton, however, the Tigers reeled off two quick scores and took the contest 2-1.
“This was the most confident we’ve been going into the Princeton game,” Maasdorp said at the time. “We felt it was our game and our time.”
The Tigers still had one Ivy game left though, and the possibility of Princeton loss gave the Crimson a glimmer of hope.
Meanwhile, Harvard found itself up against a tough opponent in then-No. 17 Boston University.
“During the warmup, there was sort of a pessimistic feeling and a lack of enthusiasm and energy,” junior Jen McDavitt said. “Kate Gannon stopped us all for a minute and gave a little impromptu speech of inspiration, and we all took it to heart.”
Getting an early goal from McDavitt and two more from Maasdorp, the Crimson got its first victory over a ranked opponent.
With the wind back in its sails, Harvard shut out Dartmouth and came home for its final league game.
When the Crimson beat Columbia 2-0 and Penn knocked off Princeton 2-1, Harvard wrapped up its first Ivy title since 1991—only its third in program history.
The Crimson tied the Quakers’ 6-1 league record, but by virtue of its victory over Penn earlier in the year, Harvard was granted the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Making its fourth NCAA appearance and first since 2002, the Crimson was paired against then-No. 3 Wake Forest, the two-time defending national champs.
The Deamon Deacons were simply too much for Harvard, overpowering the Crimson 7-1.
“We built a great team and had a great run at the end,” coach Sue Caples said. “We battled hard, [and] we exceeded our expectations.”
With the first Ivy title for Harvard in 13 years, this team won’t be soon forgotten.
“There will be nothing to top the feeling of beating Columbia and sealing our Ivy League Championship,” Gannon said.
—Staff writer J. Patrick Coyne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.