Sophomore forward Noel Painter leads Harvard with four goals this season, but the Crimson offense will need to step up its game to give the team a chance against the nationally-ranked Tigers.
If the Harvard field hockey team (3-9, 1-3 Ivy) is to break its current losing skid this weekend, it will take an Olympian effort. On Saturday at Bedford Field, the Crimson is set to square off against a No. 2 Princeton team that boasts four members from the U.S. national squad.
A matchup with the No. 2 Tigers (11-1, 4-0 Ivy) comes at an inopportune time for Harvard, which has dropped its last four contests, capped by a 4-0 home defeat to Cornell on Oct. 13. The Tigers, conversely, are riding a four-game winning streak and have been demolishing Ivy League competition this season, winning their first four conference games by a combined score of 26-1. The Crimson has scored only 14 goals in 12 total games this year.
Harvard will likely have to step up that goal total if it hopes to compete on Saturday; Princeton’s Kathleen Sharkey is the nation’s leading scorer (4.0 points per game), and she is arguably the fourth-most decorated athlete on her team. Sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht both competed this past summer in the Olympic Games in London, and teammate Michelle Cesan was named as an Olympic alternate.
Tigers’ goalkeeper Christina Maida presents another obstacle. Generally, the Crimson can count on its own goalkeeper, co-captain Cynthia Tassopoulos, to outperform her counterpart on the other side of the field, but Maida has been one of the best in the country at her position this year. Maida is ninth in the country in goals against average, allowing only 1.30 goals per game.
But this statistic might say more about the stalwart defense in front of her, as her 0.705 save percentage puts her in a tie for 50th in the nation; Tassopoulos is 23rd with a 0.753 save percentage, and she has made over twice as many saves as Maida on the season.
“[To score], it’s going to take us building the ball all the way up from our...defense to our midfield and getting sharp passes, stick to stick,” Tassopoulos said. “Once we get into their cage, we’re going to have to look for shots that are on cage as hard as they can be and getting in there for tips.”
This isn’t the first time Harvard has come up against an elite opponent this season; the Crimson has already taken the field against No. 10 Northeastern and No. 16 Boston College. Though Harvard lost each match by three goals, sophomore forward Noel Painter said that the team’s effort in defeat against the Eagles gives it confidence heading into Saturday.
“We did lose [against Boston College], but we played the best that we had [all season] because the team was so good, and we had to rise to their level,” sophomore Noel Painter said. “Our whole team rises to the occasion; all the lines start clicking, and all our passes go smoother.”
Despite the daunting matchup on paper, Painter believes the challenge will galvanize her team, not cause it to shrink under the pressure. In fact, to some degree the Crimson’s disappointing record could play to its advantage in this game, belying the threat it presents to Princeton’s undefeated Ivy season.
“Honestly, we’re not going to win Ivies because of our record, but playing like we have nothing to lose is going to be very dangerous for Princeton,” Painter said. “I think they’re going to come in underestimating us, and that’s when we can knock them down.”
Painter also said she wouldn’t be star-struck taking the field across from athletes who have already reached the highest levels of her sport.
“I personally hope that one of [the national team players] marks me,” Painter said. “They’ve been to Beijing, they’ve trained all over the world, and they have so much experience playing against players at that level that it’s just going to make us play so much better.”
All year Harvard coach Tjerk van Herwaarden has maintained that the Crimson has the talent to play with any team in the country, and for a team whose postseason ambitions have largely faded away, a win over the highly-ranked Tigers could serve as a substitute for an Ivy trophy or an NCAA Tournament berth.
“In general, this game is a way for us to show ourselves that we are a good team despite whatever our record says,” Tassopoulos said. “We’re not stupid, but we’re trying to be optimistic. We know it’s going to be a very tough game and a lot of things will have to go right [to win].”
—Staff writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.