Tied at 2-2, the teams moved to penalty kicks.
After thrilling saves from both Crimson junior keeper Lauren Mann and Huskie freshman net minder Stephanie Gordon, the score, in penalty kicks, was tied once again, 2-2.
The fates of two teams hung in the balance. One was moving on to face No.10 Boston College in the second round. The other was going home.
Unfortunately for the Harvard faithful packing the stands, it was not the Crimson’s night.
Northeastern stepped up to drill home two more shots, while Harvard failed to convert, giving the Huskies (13-8-2, 6-4 CAA) a dramatic 3-2 (4-2 in penalty kicks) victory over recently-crowned Ivy champion Harvard (10-3-5, 5-1-1 Ivy).
For Northeastern, its first time in a NCAA tournament match proved to be a memorable one.
For Harvard, the magic had run out, and its season was over.
“It was a phenomenal game from start to finish,” Crimson coach Ray Leone said. “For our team, I couldn’t be prouder of what they have accomplished this year, including the effort they gave tonight—it was unbelievable.”
After securing the Ivy league title on a penalty kick with nine seconds remaining in the second overtime on Nov. 8 against Columbia, it was fitting that the team’s bid to advance at NCAAs should go to extra kicks.
But lightning did not strike twice for Harvard, as Northeastern proved the better of the two in the final contest.
The penalty kicks started out rough for the Crimson. After the Huskies began with a make, co-captain Nikki Rhodes, after not playing the entire game, came out to take the Harvard attempt.
Despite her apparent foot injury, she drilled a shot to the left side, but Gordon was up to the task, corralling the ball with a brilliant diving save.
“It was a great save, she put a good kick on it, the keeper got a bead on it,” Leone said. “It’s a contest, that’s all it is, and they won it.”
Then came the controversy. After Mann made a diving stop, and freshman Patricia Yau and junior Lizzy Nichols converted for the Crimson, the score was knotted at 2-2. Northeastern stepped up for its third attempt, and with that attempt, Mann appeared to grab the momentum for the Crimson with another great stop.
But the save was reversed, as the head referee called Mann for stepping off her line too early.
This is a dubious call, and it was all the more ironic that the referee chose to call it, not on the first try, but on the third, after Mann had done the same thing for the first two attempts.
It is a move all keepers do and is almost never called.
On the retry, Mann again made a play on the shot, but the ball deflected off her hands into the side of the net, barely going in the goal.
The Crimson was still in charge of its own destiny, as senior forward Erin Wylie stepped into the box. After having one of her best games of the season—she tallied a goal and an assist on the night—she looked to put a capper on her stellar performance. But her shot went wide, giving Northeastern an opportunity to seal the game on its next attempt. The Huskies did not blink, winning the penalty shootout 4-2.
The team was strong to the end, but sometimes, the fates do not align.
“We should be able to handle the physical part of going to overtime over and over,” Nichols said. “I think it’s a sign of the mental toughness to continue to go into these overtimes. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.”
It looked for a while this hard play would pay off with a win for the Crimson.
With the game tied 1-1 after junior Christina Hagner tallied her team-leading seventh goal of the season near the end of the first half, Harvard came out firing in the second. Then, 10 minutes into the second frame, the Crimson broke through.
Wylie ripped a shot from 30 feet out, only to have a Huskie defender block it, but the ball ricocheted right back to her. The senior then fired a half-volley rocket off the first bounce and into the back of the net. The team erupted, as much as a result from going ahead as from the sheer quality of the goal.
Although the game did not end as Wylie would have liked, it was a performance that spoke volumes about the outgoing senior.
“I’ve been so proud of the way she has developed as a player and a teammate,” Nichols said. “To win big games, Ivy championships, you have an emotion, and she brought it every day.”
It looked like the Crimson might even add to its lead, as the team pushed the Huskies over much of the rest of the half. Freshman Hana Taniji ripped a shot with 32 minutes to play that the Huskie keeper had to dive to stop.
With 20 minutes to play, the win was in the Crimson’s sight. But after a Harvard foul 30 yards out, Northeastern’s Kelly Matthews sent in the kick, which went untouched into the Harvard box. The ball took a tough bounce and then slipped through Mann’s fingers. With that, so did the game.
It was Matthews’ second goal of the contest.
The Crimson had numerous other opportunities before penalties. Spurred by tremendous frontline play from Hagner and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Melanie Baskind, Harvard pushed the Huskies, but the attempts were all for naught.
The season is now over, and although the team was left heartbroken, the future for this young program is still most definitely promising.
“We have the talent, we’re young,” Hagner said. “I think the future is bright.”
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at email@example.com.