After a loss last weekend at home, the Harvard women’s field hockey team (3-6, 1-2 Ivy) continues its mid-season play Wednesday night against No. 8 Northeastern (8-2, 2-1 CAA), one of the highest ranked field hockey programs in the country.
The Huskies come into the game with the benefit of having one of the top players in the country, Crystal Poland. The key match-up of the game will be between Poland and the Crimson’s co-captain and starting goalkeeper Cynthia Tassopoulos, who have both notched impressive starts to their respective seasons.
Poland has scored 16 of her team’s 28 goals and was ranked third in the CAA last year with 27 goals at the end of the season. She has been named to two All-American teams, and prior to this season was named the 2012 CAA preseason field hockey Player of the Year. Currently, she is averaging 3.5 points and 1.5 assists per game, which has her ranked third in the country.
Harvard, however, isn’t concerned about Poland’s star caliber.
“Personally, I’m excited to be going up against her,” sophomore Noel Painter said. “She’s a fantastic forward and a player, but I think our team is going to be able to shut her down. As a defense and a team we are always able to perform against players and teams of that really high caliber.”
Tassopoulos has similarly posted some of the best stats in the country so far this season. Since the beginning of the campaign, she has averaged a 1.67 goals-against average (25th best in the country) and 7.71 saves per game (13th in the country). Her 0.818 save percentage is also good enough to rank as fifth-best in the country.
“It’s always a motivation when [Cynthia] gets a great save,” Painter said. “It lets everyone know we need to get [the ball] out of our defensive 25 and get on the attack so that she doesn’t have to make another save. But she’s been incredibly clutch so far this season in net.”
The Crimson is facing an opponent that is nationally ranked and currently 8-2 in all play, including a 5-1 record away. Conversely, Harvard holds a 2-4 record playing in front of its home crowd. But more than that, Northeastern holds a reputation for being a tough competitor year in and year out.
“We do know from experience that Northeastern’s always a good team, and this year’s no different,” Tassopoulos said. “We know to expect a really high-paced game against an opponent that’s skilled. We’re not really looking at their record, but we already know that Northeastern is going to be a strong competitor.”
The Crimson is coming off a 3-1 loss to Quinnipiac last Sunday, winning their previous two games before that. Harvard is looking to bounce back from the defeat, continuing to improve on its season and build off of its strengths.
“We need to come out with the same energy that we’ve come out with before,” Tassopoulos said. “If we focus on ourselves and our strengths, and if we can continue to grow, then I think we’ll have a competitive team.”
The Crimson’s offense has been helped out by point contributions from almost half of the team, with eight different players netting goals in nine games. Painter currently leads Harvard with nine points and four goals, with sophomore Caitlin Rea in second with six points and four assists. Senior Emma Keller has scored two goals and has contributed five points. Freshman Elizabeth Jacobson has also tallied one goal and one assist, and was named last week’s Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week.
For the Huskies, Poland has been helped out by teammates Lindsay Bennett and Nicky Graham, who have combined for three goals and nine assists. In net, Lizzie Priest has started every game and played all but five minutes, averaging 2.37 goals-against and a 0.716 save percentage.
The two teams met in the regular season last year when the Huskies won 1-0 despite 18 saves from Tassopoulos. The Crimson has lost the last three match-ups against Northeastern, winning its last meeting back in 2008, running the overall record between the two teams to 23-13 in favor of the Huskies. But when Harvard is playing at home, the series is tied at ten games apiece.
And even with the looming matchup with Poland and Northeastern, the Crimson is looking to improve as a team on the field.
“We can tell that certain things on the field are starting to click,” Tassopoulos said. “It’s still encouraging for us even if we don’t necessarily get the win.”