The Crimson field hockey team has made a habit of sticking with good teams lately, but on Saturday, it simply ran into a juggernaut. No. 5 Princeton remained undefeated in the Ivy League, handing Harvard a 4-0 loss at the Class of ’52 Stadium this past weekend and sending the Crimson (3-11, 1-4 Ivy) to its fourth straight defeat.
But, for a team that has struggled to score goals, the loss against the Tigers (11-3, 5-0) was far from a disappointment.
“The whole team was really, really happy with the way we played,” sophomore forward Emma Keller said. “Princeton is a top-five team right now in the nation—they’re great—but we executed our game plan just the way we wanted to.”
That game plan included a more aggressive press for the Crimson, which helped to throw off the Tigers’ offense early on.
“I think the defense did a great job of stopping play up high, and we have to credit our forwards and midfielders who made the press work really well,” sophomore goaltender Cynthia Tassopoulos said. “When Princeton’s defense was trying to work it out [of their zone], our mids and forwards marked their girls well and were able to come up with some intercepts.”
And for much of the first half, when the Tigers did manage to break through, Tassopoulos was there to stop them. The sophomore netminder tied her season high with 11 saves in the contest, keeping the game scoreless for the first 15 minutes.
“Cynthia has been…such a savior for our team this year and last year,” Keller said. “She’s a wonderful, wonderful goalie, and she comes up with amazing saves every game.”
Tassopoulos certainly had plenty of opportunities, as Princeton built up a 21-6 shot differential over the contest. But it was not until junior Kathleen Sharkey buried a shot in the 15th minute that the Tigers could break through. Sharkey, who has twice as many goals and points as the next-best Princeton player, took a pass from classmate Rachel Neufeld and sent the shot past Tassopoulos for her first of three scores on the day.
“We were a little bit back on our heels [late in the first half],” Tassopoulos said. “We were probably a little tired there at the end, and they just placed some really pretty shots. They were able to get shots off and put them in corners.”
Once Sharkey got going, the junior—who logged a Princeton-record six goals in a game earlier this year against Richmond—proved to be unstoppable. In a span of three minutes, she buried another two goals to turn a close game into a 3-0 advantage by halftime.
Harvard did its best to answer in the second half, but the squad could not keep pace with the perennial Ivy powerhouse. Senior Chloe Keating and freshmen Christy Haughey and Mariah Pewarski each notched a pair of shots in the contest, but Princeton goalies Christina Maida and Jennifer King were up to the challenge in split duty.
Tassopoulos noted, though, that the team showed promise, despite coming up empty.
“Now we’ve had almost a full season of experience, and our freshmen and sophomores are getting really nice touches,” she said. “I’m confident that we can get great corners. The next few games, our focus is going to be on more attacks.”
Harvard got a few of those good penalty corners in the second half against Princeton, as each team earned three. Unfortunately for the Crimson, only the Tigers would capitalize, as Amanda Bird fed Michelle Cesan, whose long shot caromed off the post and into the back of the cage.
Still, Harvard ensured that even a big loss on paper would help the team to improve. Two weeks removed from a trip to California that pitted the Crimson against a pair of the strongest teams in the country, Tassopoulos has begun to see the benefit of taking on top opponents.
“Stanford and Cal showed us what level we needed to be at,” the goalie said, “so [against Princeton] we were ready at the first minute to play at that level.”
After a 1-4 start in Ivy League play, it may be too late for Harvard to keep pace in the Ancient Eight. But if it can build on its improving performance, the end of the season may see the end of the Crimson’s lopsided defeats.
—Staff writer Max N. Brondfield can be reached at email@example.com.