Heading into the final week of conference play with five teams sitting within a game of each other in the Ivy League standings, the four Ivy tournament berths were still very much up in the air.
But after Penn’s victory over Princeton on Wednesday night, the Harvard women’s lacrosse team knows its fate: for the second straight year, the Crimson will be playing in the Ivy League tournament.
On May 4, Harvard will begin its quest to grab the Ivy League’s automatic bid the NCAA tournament in the first round of the four-team, single-elimination tournament.
Who the Crimson (8-6, 4-2 Ivy) matches up with on that day will be determined in part by its meeting with No. 10/11 Dartmouth this Friday night at Harvard Stadium.
The 2011 Ivy League champions, Dartmouth hasn’t seemed to miss a beat in 2012. After entering the season ranked No. 11/14 in the nation, the Big Green went 5-2 in non-conference play, its only losses coming to then-No. 5/6 Florida and then-No. 2/2 Syracuse.
Dartmouth (10-3, 5-1 Ivy) has managed to get it done with quite different personnel from a season ago. After losing 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year Kat Collins, First Team All-Ivy defender Shannie MacKenzie, and Second Team All-Ivy attacker Greta Meyer to graduation, the Big Green has turned to some new faces to lead the team.
Senior midfielders Kristin Goldberg and Sarah Plumb have done just that, spearheading the Dartmouth offense with a combined 64 goals, accounting for 44 percent of the Big Green scoring. Goldberg and Plumb enter Friday’s matchup sitting in fourth and fifth in the Ivy League in goals per game with 2.54 and 2.38, respectively.
Looking to counter the Dartmouth duo will be the stingy Crimson defense that leads the Ivy League in goals against average by a wide margin (Harvard allows 7.76 scores per contest while No. 2 Princeton allows 9.08). The Crimson has been especially stingy as of late, holding two of its previous four opponents to under five goals and all to under 10.
“I think the top teams in the Ivy League are very equal to each other though and that anything can happen,” junior midfielder Danielle Tetreault said. “I don’t think we see ourselves as the lesser team at all. I think we’re ready for this game, and we’re ready for a challenge.”
But while Dartmouth’s leaders on offense have changed, its anchor on defense has remained the same. Kristen Giovanniello, the 2011 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, is back in net for the Big Green and has displayed no signs of a sophomore slump. After leading the Ancient Eight in save percentage as a rookie, Giovanniello has followed up by stopping 46.4 percent of the shots she’s faced thus far this season, good for second in the conference behind Harvard rookie goalkeeper Kelly Weis. In last year’s regular season finale, Giovanniello helped shut down the Crimson offense, stopping 13 of Harvard’s 20 attempts en route to a 14-7 Big Green win.
“She’s actually a left-handed goalie, which is pretty rare in lacrosse, so we’ve been focusing a lot on that, placing our shots,” junior attacker Jennifer VanderMeulen said. “Shooting has definitely been one of our focuses this week in practice.”
The Crimson will look to Tetreault to help get balls past Giovanniello and points up on the scoreboard. The crafty midfielder has been hot of late, scoring four goals in each of the Crimson’s past two contests. Sophomore midfielder Kyleigh Keating has also emerged as a key contributor of late.
After posting no scores and one assist through Harvard’s first nine games, Keating has put up six goals and three assists in the Crimson’s last five matchups. In last Saturday’s 10-3 win over Columbia, Keating picked up a game-high seven ground balls and four draw controls.
“Keating’s been doing amazing on the draw,” VanderMeulen said. “We were struggling a little bit with the draw in the beginning of the year. Keating has just stepped up a lot in getting the ball and taking control in the draw circle. She’s also been contributing a lot on attack. She’s a great feeder. She sees a lot of the field.”
Co-captain Melanie Baskind and junior Micaela Cyr join Keating and Tetreault at midfield, helping form a balanced Harvard offensive attack.
(The Crimson is the only member of the Ivy League without a representative among the conferences top ten in goals or assists).
Harvard will likely need all of its key players to come out strong on Friday if it is to take down the Big Green.
“Dartmouth is a very good team,” VanderMeulen said. “We know that they’re going to come out strong, and we need to come out stronger.”