There’s no rest for the weary and no comfort on the road for frequent travelers. The Harvard women’s water polo team knows that all too well after playing 22 of its 24 games on the road this season.
Its daunting schedule included a two-day, five-game road trip to Oneonta, N.Y., a three-game excursion to sunny Southern California, and a four-game stay in Utica, N.Y. for the Northern Championships.
The team did not enjoy much respite at home either, dropping both of its home games in routs against admittedly difficult opponents. The season was marked by up and down performances, as the Crimson never won or lost more than two in a row. Amidst the turmoil of a demanding schedule, Harvard developed a sense of grit and perseverance, fighting through injuries and testing the limits of its depth to finish with a .500 record.
The senior-laden squad looked to its most veteran members to provide the leadership and experience necessary to navigate its difficult road schedule. The senior six, which included co-captains Lauren Snyder and Vivian Liao, along with Cassandra Forsyth, Melissa McCreery, Melissa Mueller, and Laura Stoppel, certainly didn’t disappoint.
Serving as the engine in the Crimson’s efficient but overmatched battleship, the six guided the team to a 12-12 record and a third-place finish at Northern Championships. Despite finishing in the same position as last year, the Crimson was not selected for an at-large bid to the Eastern Championships as it was in 2007.
Regardless of the unfortunate ending, several players in the squad put up brilliant individual performances. Junior Devon MacLaughlin led the team in scoring with 51 goals, two of which came in the team’s first round win at Northerns.
Liao posted 46 goals in the campaign, three of which were game-winners. In arguably her best performance of the year, Liao scored four goals and the game-winning shot in overtime to down Concordia College.
Other seniors who took their acts on the road and found success were Snyder and Mueller, scoring 38 and 24 goals, respectively.
As the season progressed and injuries began to mount, the team relied upon its youth reserves to step in and provide some assistance.
“It’s always important, especially since we’re graduating such a large senior class, that the [underclassmen] get more playing time,” Liao said.
“Playing time is something that you can’t replicate anywhere in practice, no matter how hard you try to simulate game conditions,” Snyder said. “I think it’s great that we’ve had the opportunity [this season] to do that.”
Freshman Patricia Smith, voted the team’s Rookie of the Year, became a valuable fixture in the lineup and backed head coach Erik Farrar’s confidence by scoring 10 goals.
Sophomores Roxanne Pinto and Kathryn Bilder each saw increased time in the pool and netted eight and 18 goals, respectively.
After going through some harrowing results in the weeks leading up to Northern Championships (a 19-5 loss at home to No. 14 Hartwick and an 11-2 loss against archrival No. 20 Brown), the team had four days to recoup and get itself focused on succeeding at Northerns.
Down by one goal after the first quarter of the first tournament game against Queens College, it seemed that the Crimson’s turbulent season was coming to an equally turbulent conclusion.
To make matters worse, Snyder suffered a broken finger early on and had to sit out for the remainder of the game.
But once again, the team unleashed its varied attack, ultimately downing Queens College 13-5, with Mueller, Forsyth, and Snyder scoring two apiece.
Losing to Hartwick and Brown again at Northerns dashed any hopes of postseason glory, but Harvard and its senior six were afforded one last opportunity to battle in the pool. All six seniors started (including Snyder) and led the Crimson to a successful finish, besting Connecticut College 9-3.
“What possibly is your last game is a tough one to play,” Snyder said. “But we’ve had fun playing together as a class through the years.”
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.