Lions Eliminate Last Title Hopes

Columbia uses deep balls to penetrate Crimson defense on fast turf

The Harvard women’s soccer team’s dream of an Ivy League title was swept away Saturday night in New York with a 2-1 loss against Columbia (7-5-4, 2-3-1 Ivy).

The Crimson’s defeat, coupled with Penn’s extra-time victory over Princeton, put the league crown out of Harvard’s reach.

Despite a well-worked goal from freshman Gina Wideroff moments before halftime, Harvard (10-5-1, 3-3-0) was unable to cope with the Lions’ style of play, allowing two goals from Columbia senior Gudrun Finnsdottir.

Coach Ray Leone described the loss as “heartbreaking.”

“The team is really disappointed,” he said.

The Lions got off to an early start with a goal in the seventh minute when Finnsdottir got her head on the end of a teammate’s cross.

All night, Columbia used long ball tactics to get behind the Crimson defense. With the ball moving faster on the artificial turf in New York, Harvard had a tough time dealing with the Lions’ direct attack.

“It was pretty hectic out there,” co-captain Megan Merritt said. “We tried to settle it down but just weren’t able to. It’s not pretty soccer, but it’s hard to deal with.”

Sophomore defender Kelli Okuji agreed.

“We were chasing down balls at the back all night,” she said.

Columbia’s tactics did not come as a surprise. The Crimson practiced all week on the turf of the football field to try to get used to the speed on the unfamiliar surface.

Still, Harvard was unable to find its rhythm. The ball spent a significant amount of time up in the air, and many passes went astray.

The Crimson reached halftime level, though, as Wideroff grabbed an equalizer in the 44th minute. On the play, freshman Katherine Sheeleigh sent a pass to sophomore Christina Hagner. Hagner, who appeared to have room to shoot, chose instead to lay the ball off to a trailing Wideroff, who hammered the ball past the Lions’ keeper.

Columbia’s winner came in the 70th minute, courtesy of Finnsdottir’s second goal of the match.

In the last 20 minutes, Harvard had a number of chances to send the game into extra time. But the Crimson found itself hampered by the Lions’ style of play and could not find a way to even the score.

Leone and his players were upset with the overall performance in New York.

“We didn’t play well,” Leone said. “Columbia brought more emotion to the game.”

Despite the disappointment of the loss, the importance of the game underscores just how big a step forward Harvard has made this season. At this point last year, the team was playing solely for pride. And with a large portion of the squad made up of underclassmen, the program is set up nicely for the future.

On Saturday, however, the lack of familiarity with playing in big games may have hurt the Crimson.

“At times, we show our inexperience,” Leone said. “And tonight was just one of those nights.”

Despite the loss, Harvard has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament via an at-large berth if it can beat Penn in its final match of the season.

“We’d like to finish with more heart at home against Penn,” Leone said.

That contest kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on Ohiri Field.