Oct. 13 was a trying day for the Harvard women’s soccer team. Despite outshooting a beatable Brown team, 24-8, the Crimson couldn’t find the back of the net and saw its league title hopes take an early hit in a 1-0 loss.
A week later, Harvard wasted no time in getting back on track.
Sophomore defender Lizzy Nichols scored on a free kick in the first minute of play to open the scoring for the Crimson, which scored three first-half goals en route to a 4-2 victory over Ivy League leader Princeton Saturday at Ohiri Field.
The goal was the first of the season for Nichols, who led the team in scoring a year ago.
“[Scoring early] wasn’t something we had really done this season, and it’s something we’ve been striving to do,” sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Mann said. “It really lifted everyone up, and we knew from that moment that it was going to be a good game.”
The Tigers quickly responded with a tally of their own, as senior Diana Matheson tapped junior Jen Om’s shot past Mann at 4:54.
But in the 17th minute, freshman forward Katherine Sheeleigh took a perfectly placed through ball from junior midfielder Rachael Lau, used a burst of speed to beat her defender to the ball, and made a move around diving Princeton keeper Maren Dale. Sheeleigh’s easy touch into the open net gave Harvard the lead for good.
A first-half offensive onslaught like Saturday’s was a breakthrough for a Crimson squad plagued by early sluggishness. Harvard had not recorded a goal before the break in its last seven matches before Saturday’s contest.
“You can be playing well at times, but if you don’t score goals, it just zaps your energy,” coach Ray Leone said. “Scoring an early goal—even though they scored right back—you still have the energy because you’ve said, ‘Hey, we can score.’”
Sheeleigh, who leads Harvard in scoring this season, notched two goals to seal the deal against the Ancient Eight leaders.
“Today was just so exciting because everyone came to play,” Sheeleigh said. “Everyone put in hard tackles, and it was just a team effort from start to finish. Everyone finally came together.”
Freshman Gina Wideroff also notched a second-half score when she headed in a corner kick from freshman defender Caroline Kutler.
The goal was Wideroff’s fourth of the season, while the assist was Kutler’s first collegiate point.
Despite tying a season high with four goals, the Crimson was never out of the woods against a Tigers team with some offensive firepower of its own. Princeton, which entered the game second in the league with 22 goals scored, outshot Harvard, 25-13, on the day.
The Tigers showed off their own rookies when first-year forward Marissa Sampias scored in the 62nd minute to cut the lead to 4-2. Just inside the 18 on the left side, Sampias unleashed a rocket that eluded Mann’s leap and sailed just under the crossbar.
In the 85th minute, Matheson had a chance to make the last few minutes interesting when she was taken down inside the box.
But Mann snatched her ensuing line-drive penalty kick attempt to preserve Harvard’s two-goal cushion and knock the Ivy leaders out of first place.
Mann’s save in a tight spot and her performance on the day earned glowing praise from her coach.
“It’s just a guess, but she’s a world-class player,” Leone said. “She’s the best player in the league that anyone’s seen in quite a long time.”
The victory puts the Crimson in a tie for third place in the league with Yale, which beat Harvard in an overtime thriller on Sept. 29.
Penn, which remains undefeated in the league after picking up a 5-0 win over Cornell Saturday, will visit Cambridge for the season’s final matchup on Nov. 10.
The Crimson resumes play next Saturday against Dartmouth with kickoff at Ohiri Field scheduled for 11 a.m.
“It just gives us a lot of confidence going into the next game,” Mann said of Saturday’s performance. “Everyone’s fired up now, and this game just gave us the confidence we needed.”
—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.