Revitalized from a half time pep talk, the Harvard women’s field hockey team scored five goals while shutting out Holy Cross (0-1) in the second half to clinch a 6-1 victory at Jordan Field on Saturday. The Crimson (1-0) claimed its first win of the season led by the strong performance of sophomore Emma Keller, who had two goals in the second half.
“Winning our season opener was a huge success for our team,” Keller said. “We have more numbers this year than last, with eight new freshmen greatly contributing, and [we] worked extremely hard this preseason to really refine our core skills and speed up the play of the game.”
Harvard got off to a fast start and scored in the fourth minute on a penalty corner. Freshman Carly McNeill took the deflection from senior teammate Chloe Keating’s shot and put the ball into the back of the Crusaders’ net.
But Holy Cross equalized in the 13th minute as a scramble in front of the Crimson goal post resulted in a Crusaders score.
With the game tied at 1-1, both teams settled down defensively, pressuring the pass and making momentum-stopping interceptions.
Harvard got several opportunities through its combination of tough defense and great ball movement, but the team could not capitalize. Each time the shot would fall just wide or the last pass would be just out of reach. But the team held on through those frustrating moments and with time winding down in the first half, junior co-captain Carly Dixon took a pass on the run and rifled a shot past the Holy Cross goalkeeper.
Yet upon further review, time had expired before the shot, and Dixon’s score was discounted. Nevertheless, Dixon’s shot ignited the team and the Crimson held the momentum going into halftime.
“We talk about the first five and last [five],” Harvard coach Sue Caples said. “Time ran out, and it was too bad. I think [the players] could hear us counting, and they just kept on fighting.”
Coming out of the break, Harvard drew on its first half momentum and pushed the tempo of the game through swift passing, taking Holy Cross by surprise. The Crimson dominated possessions and took four shots at the goal in the span of 10 minutes before Keating finally came through with a long-range shot in the 45th minute.
“We had great execution from our attack corners,” Caples said. “We had outstanding passing combinations and really nice passing patterns. We changed from a four to a three working the ball out, and we had good overlap. We had numbers around the ball and numbers above the ball. “
Indeed, the great passing gave Keller all the opportunities she needed to break the game open. The rookie scored two goals in the span of three minutes, putting Holy Cross well out of contention. Both Sophomore Katelin Wahl and Junior Georgia McGillivray had a goal in the second half as well, with McGillivray’s score coming off a penalty corner.
But Harvard’s defense was just as important as its offense. The Crimson swarmed the ball each time the Crusaders moved into the home half of the field, and the backs continued to anticipate passes and intercept balls going towards the goal. Sophomore Nina Kucharczyk led the fast break multiple times with passes stolen from the opponents. The tough defense limited Holy Cross’s opportunities and allowed Harvard to outshoot the Crusaders, 21-15.
“We are very solid defensively,” Caples said. “But we’d like to give up fewer shots. We did a good job [today] of making recovery runs, and we made good intercepts.”
With the clock ticking, the Crusaders put together several desperation series, all of which were stopped by sophomore goaltender Cynthia Tassopoulos, who shined in the second half with two great saves.
Harvard owned an 8-6 edge in penalty corners, and it was able to convert those opportunities into precious goals.
“Overall a good first day,” Caples said about the win. “It was very well played for us. Playing someone else is very different from practice, very different from scrimmages.”
—Staff writer James Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.