Revenge is sweet.
Taking the Ivy League championship and going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 and the fifth time in school history makes it that much better.
“Winning the championship in general is such a sweet feeling, and knowing that we‘re playing a team [Cornell] that took it from us last year just makes it even sweeter,” junior Whitney Shaw said.
But the Harvard softball team’s strong season (36-16, 18-2 Ivy) didn’t just start in March. The goal of hoisting the Ancient Eight trophy has been in the making since the third and final game of last year’s Ivy League Championship Series. In 2010. both the Crimson and Big Red held a game apiece in the three-games set. Harvard looked to have the third and final game locked up, but solid pitching by the Big Red left the Crimson down one run at the final out.
“I think the game when [winning the Ivy crown] became our mission was the third game of the Ivy League title series last year,” junior Jane Alexander said. “We lost to Cornell last year, and every single time since then, our team was 110 percent focused on winning the title next year. For our training in the fall, everyone was doing extra. From the day last season ended to now, that has been our goal.”
The extra work paid off, as this year started with a five-game winning streak against Ivy League opponents before back-to-back losses to Princeton and Cornell. Harvard bounced back and from then on refused to lose any other conference game.
“We knew that every single Ivy League team was a threat, and we had to take it one team at a time, step by step,” Shaw said. “Even the teams that don’t consistently end up in the top two or three are very scrappy. Every single team is gunning for us.”
Hitting played a critical role in the team’s success, as Harvard’s offense decimated its competition. Third baseman freshman Kasey Lange, shortstop Alexander, and second basemen senior Ellen Macadam were part of the five Crimson players who won first-team All-Ivy awards. Macadam led the Ivy League in hits with 76 and runs scored with 52, good enough to win Ivy League Player of the Year, while Lange took the top spot in RBIs with 65.
“Anytime we were playing an opponent, we were confident that no matter how many runs they scored, we would score more,” Alexander said. “I think that’s a really nice confidence to have, to know that no matter what happens, you have the capability to score more offensively than the other team, which obviously is how you win.”
Along with Harvard’s big bats, the Crimson’s pitching staff secured honors of its own. Junior Rachel Brown earned Ivy League Pitcher of the Year status with a 1.90 ERA, 291 strikeouts, and 21 wins, while classmate Marika Zumbro and rookie Laura Ricciardone garnered second-team All-Ivy honors.
Brown’s statistics as well as those of the rest of the Harvard squad showcased Harvard’s new focus on smaller, more specific goals.
“We were big on making sure to set goals beforehand and not just big, general goals like [winning] the Ivies,” Shaw said. “I think we really did a great job at keeping that process in mind the whole time and focusing on completing those smaller goals, and knew that if we kept working on those, that would help with our bigger goal.”
At NCAA regionals, softball appeared overmatched in its first two games. The team lost two of its most lopsided games of the year, falling to No. 10 Arizona, 10-0, before dropping its second game of the tournament to Texas Tech, 7-0, the following afternoon. Brown and Ricciardone both struggled early, and the Crimson could not catch up late.
In just two games, Harvard was eliminated from postseason play. But in spite of the losses, the season remains one of the best in the history of the program.
—Staff writer Alex Sopko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.