Junior Jennifer VanderMeulen has been a force for the Crimson this season. She looks to lead the squad to an upset of Penn on Friday night.
On March 10, the Harvard women’s lacrosse team appeared poised to accomplish a feat no Crimson team had in more than a decade. With 16:23 to play, Harvard held what appeared to be a comfortable 10-5 lead over then-No. 9/10 Penn, a foe no Crimson squad had bested since 2000.
But in the final 15 minutes of play, Harvard’s lead evaporated. The Quakers reeled off four straight scores in less than five minutes to pull within one, and then evened the score with 1:06 to go to force overtime. In the extra period, Penn squeaked out a one-goal win.
“Not meaning to sound dramatic, but that was probably on the most disappointing results I can remember,” said co-captain Melanie Baskind following the 14-13 loss.
On Friday night, the Crimson will get another crack at the Quakers.
Playing in the Ivy League Tournament for the second straight season, fourth-seeded Harvard (9-6, 5-2 Ivy) will take on top-seeded Penn (8-6, 6-1) in Philadelphia in the tournament’s opening round. The victor will go on to play for the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on Sunday against the winner of the other first-round matchup between No. 2 seed Dartmouth and No. 3 seed Cornell.
But getting past the Quakers—currently ranked No. 9 in the IWLCA poll—will be no easy task.
“I think we are going in knowing that it is going to be a fight, and we are ready to bring our best,” junior midfielder Danielle Tetreault said. “At this point…your season is on the line every game you play, and I know we are not ready for it to be our last.”
The six-time defending Ivy League champions, Penn enters Friday’s matchup boasting a talented lineup that features three of the 11 members of the 2012 First-Team All Ivy.
Receiving the honor for the third straight season was senior attack Erin Brennan. Penn’s leading scorer in 2011, Brennan has continued to be the focal point of the Quakers’ offense in her final season, tallying a team-high 29 goals and 23 assists through 14 games. Brennan proved to be a problem for the Crimson defense in March when she finished three of six shots—including the first goal of overtime—and dished out an assist.
Joining Brennan on the First-Team All Ivy was junior midfielder Maddie Poplawski. In her third season as a starter, Poplawski has gotten it done on both sides of the field, finishing the regular season first on the Quakers in draw controls, second in ground balls and caused turnovers, and third in goals.
The Quakers’ final first-team selection was senior goalkeeper Emily Leitner, who is second in the Ancient Eight in ground balls per game and fourth in saves and goals allowed.
Penn enters Friday’s contest coming off a 12-5 loss to No. 7 Duke and its worst offensive performance of the year. Harvard, on the other hand, is currently riding a five-game winning streak, its most recent victory coming over No. 10 Dartmouth last Friday.
Crucial to the Crimson’s success has been the play of its defense, which has limited its past five opponents to 5.4 goals per game. Harvard is currently ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 7.58 per game, nearly three scores below its 2011 average.
Rookie goalkeeper Kelly Weis can take some of the credit for Harvard’s improvement on the defensive side. Weis, who has started in the cage since game one, has come into her own of late, stopping more than half of the shots she’s faced in three of her last four games. The rookie is currently tops in the Ivy League in both goals allowed and save percentage, and is ranked 11th in the nation in the latter category.
Harvard’s offense, which had trouble gelling in the early portion of the season, is also starting to come together at the right time. After a five-game stretch midway through the season in which the Crimson reached double-figures just once, Harvard has since put up at least 10 goals in four of its last five matchups.
Leading the way for the Crimson has been the trio of Baskind, Tetreault, and junior Jennifer VanderMeulen, who have combined for 79 of Harvard’s 133 goals on the year.
“A lot of things have come together for us in the last couple weeks, and we are looking to continue with this success moving forward,” Tetreault said.
If the Crimson’s offense and defense continue on their current trajectories, then the Crimson might just be able to finish the job it couldn’t last March—and earn a bid to the Ivy League championship in the process.
—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.