After missing chance after chance in enemy territory, the Crimson’s captain finally kicked that door through and made the team’s first statement win official. On a beautiful afternoon at Harvard’s Cumnock Turf, Nicole Rhodes scored eight minutes into overtime to seal a 2-1 win over crosstown rival Northeastern (3-3-1).
Since opening its season with two losses in California September 5-7, the Crimson has not dropped a decision.
“It was great to win today and keep the momentum going—we’d been finding a rhythm,” Rhodes said. “We just wanted to focus on getting that win.”
Harvard hoped to strike early in extra time after playing two full overtime periods on Sunday before ending in a 1-1 tie with Wisconsin. Even with the game tied at one apiece in the second half, Harvard had plenty of chances to put the game away and prevent extra time altogether.
In the 68th minute, junior Christina Hagner’s game-tying bid nicked off the far post and out of harm’s way. In the 75th minute, a Lizzy Nichols free kick ran just out of the reach of a sprinting Sheeleigh and turned around for a goal kick. In the 79th minute, Sheeleigh’s own free kick rose just high and wide of the net.
“You’ve got to keep believing that the next one’s going to go in,” coach Ray Leone said. “It’s worse when you’re not getting any and you’re just hanging on for that one opportunity. So it’s great that we actually got those chances.”
“We did have the pressure going, we did have the momentum,” Rhodes added. “We just tried to keep that momentum going and pull out the win.”
Surprisingly, the extra-time tally was the first goal of the two-time captain’s career in crimson and white. But scoring is nothing new for Rhodes’ classmate Erin Wylie, who got things started up top for Harvard in the first half. Wylie took a pass from sophomore Katherine Sheeleigh around the 30, had a few touches, and fired a shot that rose out of the reach of Huskies keeper Stephanie Gordon. The goal was the senior’s second so far in 2008.
The Crimson held a 12-6 shot advantage at the break, but Northeastern came out with all the aggressiveness in the second period. The crossbar was just low enough on Erin McGaffigan’s 45-minute tying bid, but teammate Liza Rebello got it right ten minutes later. Taking a left-side cross from Veronica Napoli, Rebello beat Laura Dale, who had replaced Lauren Mann in net at the break. Each keeper played a full half, but Mann played the final eight minutes in overtime.
“We were great in the first half, and in the second, our fatigue really got to us,” Leone said. “We’ve just got to get our legs back.”
Located just a few miles from each other, these teams played a close game in more ways than the final score could show. Each team fired 20 shots on the day, with the Crimson holding a slight 5-4 edge in corner kicks.
In such a close matchup, veteran leadership—especially during Wylie and Rhodes’ goals—shone through. On a particularly young roster, Leone’s seniors made their presence felt.
“I challenge each one of them all the time about saying something to someone, doing something positive here and there, and they’re all doing it,” Leone said. “They’ve all five giving leadership in their own ways.”
Rhodes is quick to attribute the victory to the fast learning curve of the still-developing team.
“We have a lot of players on this team that can contribute,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of players in now in these types of tight situations.”
Indeed, two overtime games against nonconference opponents can only help Harvard as it prepares for Ivy play beginning September 27 at defending league champion Penn. Next up: an even tougher opponent, 10th-ranked Boston College. Kickoff is scheduled for tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Chestnut Hill.
“We took a lot from these games—now they’ve been there,” Leone said. “They know to be composed, to believe that they can do it, and they did that. It was an end-to-end game, an exhausting game, so I’m very proud of them.”
—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.