For the second year in a row, the Harvard women’s soccer team has had to watch another group of players celebrate an Ivy League championship on Ohiri Field.
Penn (13-3-1, 6-1-0 Ivy) clinched sole possession of the league title Saturday by downing the Crimson, 1-0. A 15th-minute goal from Penn’s Jessica Fuccello—her 11th goal of the season—coupled with an impressive defensive display was enough to defeat Harvard in a match of very few chances.
A year ago, it was Columbia that clinched the Ivy League crown in Cambridge. However, that is pretty much all that the two seasons had in common for the Crimson. Harvard (10-6-1, 3-4-0) more than tripled its win total from last season. Despite ending the year on a low note after losing its final two games, the Crimson will not think of the season as a failure.
“We’ve improved, and I definitely think we grew,” coach Ray Leone said. “And along with that growth you get some ups and downs—but most of it was up.”
Harvard went into the game hoping to get a win that might take the squad to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection.
“It was a pretty emotional game,” sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Mann said. “We tried to play for ourselves, play for our seniors, and play for a chance in the tournament, but it just didn’t really go our way.”
While the Crimson played with heart, the team was disappointed with its execution in such a crucial game.
“Our effort was there, but our performance was not,” Leone said. “We really struggled on the day.”
Harvard was stifled by the Quakers defense and managed just one shot on goal the entire match.
Penn went ahead after 15 minutes when, after a long cross into the box, Fuccello redirected a teammate’s shot from the left side of the box and beat Mann to the far post.
The Quakers would have doubled the lead 20 minutes later had it not been for the left foot of Mann. Penn’s Kaitlin Campbell slipped past the Crimson back line and found herself through on goal on the left side of the box. A great kick-save by Mann, though, sent the ball wide of the far post and allowed Harvard to go into the break just one goal down.
The second half went along the same path as the first, with the Crimson unable to build any real momentum going forward. The Quakers, too, were unable to create many chances. Their best opportunity of the second half came courtesy of a header off a corner that sophomore defender Kelli Okuji was able to clear off the line.
The final 10 minutes of the match saw Harvard put the Penn defense under constant pressure for the first time. The Crimson served a lot of crosses into the box, but none of them were able to connect with a Harvard player.
The best work of the afternoon came from the Crimson’s freshmen. Harvard looked most dangerous when Katherine Sheeleigh, Kerry Kartsonis, and Gina Wideroff combined with some clever link-up play.
While those three freshmen will be key components of next year’s team, the match was also a chance for the team to say goodbye to its three seniors: Megan Kerr, Michelle Hull, and co-captain Megan Merritt.
Junior Rachael Lau described her departing teammates as “great leaders and great role models.”
“Overall, they should be proud,” Leone said of his seniors. “They helped turn the program around this year.”
The Crimson, however, is not satisfied simply with its improvement. Mann described this year as a “building season for next year.”
Next year, Harvard will hope to be the team celebrating an Ivy League title on the final day of the season.