Looking to avenge a pair of heartbreaking losses, Harvard women’s soccer (3-4) opens Ivy League play with a primetime matchup against the defending league champions, the University of Pennsylvania (5-1), at Soldiers Field tonight.
This will mark the fourth consecutive time the teams will have met to open their respective Ivy campaigns and the 20th time they have met since the Ivy League women’s soccer program gained varsity status in 1991. The Crimson has dominated the series, posting a record of 13-4-3.
At face value, these two teams appear to be headed in opposite directions entering the crucial part of the season. Harvard is riding a three-game losing streak, which includes nail-biters against the University of Rhode Island and Hofstra University. Meanwhile, the Quakers have won five of its last six matches. Fortunately, Crimson freshman midfielder Lauren Urke and her teammates say they have a short memory.
“We learn from our mistakes, take lessons, and move forward from there,” Urke said, emphasizing how the has team “clicked” on and off the field.
Harvard coach Ray Leone plans to use this game as a gauge of his team’s progress.
“We are still growing as a team, and starting the Ivy League season this week should give us an idea of where we are in many areas,” he said. “[Penn] is a very good team … We will have to play very well to be successful.”
It should be an entertaining contest if recent series history is any indication. The previous three matchups—which averaged five goals and a one-goal margin of victory per game—have featured plenty of scoring and drama.
To add yet another dimension to tonight’s game, the Crimson has a chance to avenge more than its recent heartbreakers. Penn recaptured the Ivy League title from the Crimson last year, taking its second championship in the last four years, while Harvard claims the other two. A big performance tonight would send a message to the rest of the Ivy League that the Crimson means business.
In addition, both the Quakers and the Crimson have fresh faces that could make an impact. Penn is starting four new players this season after losing All-Ivy recipients Kaitlin Campbell and Sarah Friedman to graduation. Freshman midfielder Katilyn Moore has recently received praise for her performance.
Yet Harvard also has youth to help bolster its roster. Leone has already incorporated all 11 freshmen into his system, giving each playing time. Among the impact rookies are Meg Casscells-Hamby, who has scored two goals and notched three assists, Kate Makaroff, who has scored two goals, and Urke, who has a goal and two assists. Freshmen Bethany Kanten and Cheta Emba have also played a combined 311 minutes in goal, allowing only five scores.
This season Harvard and Penn are among the top three in the Ivy League in shots, points, and goals per game, although the Crimson ranks first in both shots and goals.
After a five-day layoff, Harvard should enter tonight’s match revitalized physically and strategically.
“We are really excited for [tonight’s] game … We’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time, which is good because we’ve been able to play a bunch of different people,” co-captain Melanie Baskind said. “Now it’s back to the drawing board to see what works and put it all together [tonight].”
Penn has decimated opponents in its previous six games, outscoring them 11-3. During this streak, it outshot opponents 46 to 24 and had 44 corner kicks compared to their opponents’ 11. All five of the Quakers’ wins during this span were shutouts.
Senior forward Marin McDermott has led the way. She has scored four goals —good for first in the Ivy League—and has tallied an assist thus far. Her start this season is indicative of her play throughout her career; she has received honorable mention for the All-Ivy team each of the past three years.
This group of women has never played a home Ivy League contest under the big lights.
“It’s exciting,” Baskind said. “We usually play them at night at their place … We should definitely get some more fans and it should add some intensity to the game.”