If the last few seasons were "building years," as the Harvard women’s water polo team likes to call them, 2012 is the squad’s chance to reach new heights.
Coming off a season in which it won its most games since 2005, the Crimson plans to continue its upward growth as its seniors, who have been the team’s primary leaders since they stepped on campus, play out their final season.
"I think we, as a [senior] class and as [a team], have been building toward this point for a while," co-captain Shannon Purcell said. "We have grown a lot in the past year, and we have been building on our improvements from previous years."
The Crimson, having graduated two non-starting seniors last year, will welcome back the three highest scorers of the past two seasons, co-captain Devan Kennifer, senior attacker Monica Zdrojewski, and junior attacker Aisha Price, all of whom are expected to lead the team to top its fifth-place finish at the 2011 Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championships.
While Zdrojewski and Price put up very similar numbers in the goals, assists, and steals categories, two-time All-American honorable mention Kennifer was the force on last year’s team, leading the Crimson with 76 goals and 81 steals.
Kennifer’s numbers earned her much recognition last season, coming in the form of nods from both the CWPA Southern Division All-Conference First Team and the CWPA Eastern Championship All-Tournament First Team. This year, the Crimson expects the opposition to account for Kennifer’s notoriety in the pool.
But, as Harvard consistently proved last year, its wins are never one-woman shows.
Kennifer and her strong supporting cast are expected to capitalize on their depth and speed in 2012.
"We’re a very fast team," Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. "We have speed from top to bottom. Defenders are going to have to defend us all the way down the pool. We’re going to play from two-meter to two-meter, and we’re going to play hard in the lanes to make you earn everything you get. We’re going to grind it out."
Although Harvard’s roster remains largely unchanged from last season, the loss of senior goalie Laurel McCarthy could impede the continued growth of the team.
McCarthy and her impressive 184 saves last season were crucial to the Crimson’s success, earning her the program’s Most Improved Player award and a large leadership role on the team by the end of last season.
But McCarthy’s two torn labrums required her to get surgery, leaving the goalkeeper in recovery for the entirety of the 2012 season.
McCarthy’s injury will provide for the season’s biggest surprise in the season’s first game on Saturday at Iona.
"We will have a freshman starting in goal—that’s a major difference," Minnis said.
The opening in goal has left an opportunity for the other goalies on the team, freshmen Ariel Dukes and Jasmine Griffin, to see significant playing time this season.