The Harvard women’s soccer team (1-0-1) has good reason to be confident as it takes the field against University of Dayton (3-3) Friday night at Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium. After drawing a hotly contested match last Monday with local rival Boston University, the Crimson looks to extend its unbeaten streak for the season against the Flyers in its second home match of the year and then on the road against Colgate (4-2-1).
For Harvard, these two weekend matchups against relatively unknown but well-respected sides stand as unique opportunities to test the team’s mettle and serve as launchpads for the Crimson into the rest of the season.
HARVARD v. DAYTON
The Crimson faces a truly unfamiliar opponent in the Flyers, but an opponent that nonetheless is preceded by an impressive reputation. As one of the premier programs in the Atlantic-10 division and nationally, Dayton comes to New England on a two-day weekend tour that will see the Flyers take on both the Crimson and Northeastern.
“[Dayton is] a very good team that won 19 games last year,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “They’ve won a lot of championships for good reason. They are fast, [and] they are difficult to defend.... The game against BU really helped prepare us. We just have to be ready to stay with whatever they bring to the game and match their intensity.”
In the Crimson’s outing last Monday, Harvard was finally able to put an end to a three-game losing streak against the Terriers.
Senior defender Taryn Kurcz showcased her versatility on the field and led Harvard offensively, notching two goals off headers and nearly converting a third goal in extra time. In net, sophomore Bethany Kanteen registered five saves on the night.
After opening up the season with a 3-1 record—highlighted by a thrilling, last-minute victory against BU—the Flyers have suffered back-to-back losses at home, to Central Michigan and DePaul by scores of 4-2 and 2-1, respectively.
Yet despite Dayton’s recent downturn, the Flyers’ offense has nonetheless remained a well-oiled machine capable of fearsome firepower. In its first six games of the season, Dayton has scored 17 goals, with midfielders Juliana Libertin and Ashley Campbell along with junior forward Colleen Williams serving as the Flyers’ leading playmakers and scorers. Crimson coach Ray Leone took time to emphasize Colleen Williams’ talent.
“Though we don’t know their team that well since we’ve never played them before, we do know that Colleen Williams is one of the best strikers in the country,” Leone said. “The kid got 45 or 50 goals one year which is quite an accomplishment. She’s going to be a handful for us, and we are going to have to play very well in order to contain her.”
Despite the unique challenge that Dayton poses for the Crimson, both Coach Leone and junior co-captain Peyton Johnson emphasized that practice during the week was about shoring up key weaknesses and points of concern for the team going forward, and less about devising a unique game plan to counter the Flyers.
“Early on in the season we don’t practice so much towards the other team and more towards working on we need to work on,” Johnson said. “We’ve been just really working on what’s going to make us a great team for the rest of the season and worrying less about our opponent.”
HARVARD v. COLGATE
On Sunday, the Harvard women’s soccer team leaves Cambridge on a journey into upstate New York for a matchup at Colgate. The Crimson hopes to earn its second road victory of the season after beating UMass, 2-0, in the first match of the regular season.
“This is going to be our first big away game, so we’ll have the opportunity to see how that works,” Johnson said. “For a lot of freshman, this will be their first overnight game, and it will be an exciting experience for us all being so far away from home and playing another really unfamiliar team like Dayton.”
With seven matches under the Raiders’ belts so far this season and 20 goals already scored, much like Dayton, the high-octane Colgate offensive line, led by senior forward Jillian Kinter, seems ready to test the Crimson back four.
But despite facing new territory this weekend with home and away games against unfamiliar opponents, Harvard seems is optimistic about its chances.
“This weekend there are going to be some surprises and hopefully we’ll show our best,” Johnson said.
—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.