The women’s soccer team’s preseason made it clear that Harvard coach Ray Leone had some kinks to work out.
Working with a roster featuring nine incoming freshmen and six returning sophomores, Leone has tried various lineups and position changes in order to find the perfect balance of experience and youth.
Though the squad entered league play with a 3-4 record and riding a three-game losing streak, none of that mattered when the Crimson took on defending Ivy champion Penn on Friday at Soldiers Field Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium, where Leone’s maneuvering paid off.
It looks as if the squad’s recent string of losses had, in fact, revealed many weaknesses that were able to be addressed during the week leading up to the much-anticipated league opener.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
In Harvard’s first four contests—three of which were one-goal wins—the Crimson offense out-scored its opponents, 7-5.
But in the subsequent three games, Harvard’s offense slowed down and could not rely on its defense to pull through.
BU, Hofstra, and Rhode Island out-scored the Crimson by a cumulative score of 11-6.
What became clear, especially after Hofstra’s 5-4 win over Harvard, was that the back line needed to do a better job of closing spaces and tackling aggressively.
Against the Quakers, the Crimson did just that. When the visiting team controlled possession in the middle of the field, Harvard found ways of stripping the ball and going for the quick counterattack.
The Crimson’s defenders were precise in their tackling and successfully held the Penn offense at bay. In the air, the Quakers had no luck; Harvard’s back line was not afraid to head the ball forward or direct exact passes to its players on the wings. Co-captain Melanie Baskind praised her defense and called Friday night’s effort “the [defensive] performance of the season by far.”
Penn could only muster four shots on goal and nine shots in total, giving Crimson rookie goalkeepers Bethany Kanten and Cheta Emba a relatively easy night. Despite playing the first league game in their young careers, the freshmen rose to the occasion and commanded the defense throughout the match.
Quaker fans may point to the absence of injured sophomore Kerry Scalora as a major reason for Penn’s listless attack. Given the home team’s strong defensive showing, it would have been doubtful that the Quaker playmaker could have changed the outcome of the game. On the season, Scalora has only one goal from 28 shots, a low rate of efficiency that would not have fared well against the strong back line the Crimson exhibited on Friday.
OFFENSE WINS GAMES
With the defense doing its part, the home offense knew that the team’s fate would lie on its feet.