While many of their classmates will head home to relax over spring break, the Harvard women’s water polo players will travel across the country to California for 11 games, all of which will be against schools from the Golden State.
Six of the Crimson’s (8-6, 0-1 Ivy) opponents on the road trip are ranked in the top 20 in the nation, giving the squad the opportunity to test itself against some of the strongest teams that collegiate water polo has to offer.
“When I got [to Harvard], my goal was to build this program into a top program,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “And to be a top-20 program…you have to learn how to play at that level consistently, and I think that’s what were doing now with this portion of our schedule.”
The Crimson begins the West Coast swing with four games at the Aztec Invitational on the campus of No. 16 San Diego State. Harvard plays Cal Lutheran and the tournament hosts on March 15, followed by No. 11 UC San Diego and No. 10 San Jose State on March 16.
For many members of the Crimson, the games will have added significance. Minnis is an alumnus of San Jose State, and nine of the team’s 15 players hail from California, the most well-established hotbed for water polo in the country.
“I think everyone likes to go to California to play,” junior co-captain Ariel Dukes said. “There’s a huge difference between indoor and outdoor pools, so I know we’re all excited to play outdoors. Everyone’s families come, so we look forward to this trip all year.”
Minnis hopes that his California charges will enjoy the extra time with family but also expects the squad to maintain concentration on the task at hand.
“We’ll get to play in front of our friends and family from back home, so it is a nice little homecoming,” Minnis said. “But I think there are distractions that come with it.”
It will be up to Harvard’s players to make sure that those distractions don’t affect their focus, as the grueling stretch of games will be taxing not only physically but also mentally.
“We know it’s a marathon—it’s a marathon every year,” Dukes said. “I don’t think any of us think it’s going to be a really easy week.”
After the Aztec Invitational, the Crimson has two days of rest before concluding the trip with six games over four days.
On March 19, Harvard will split up into two squads to play games at Whittier and Pomona. The next day, the Crimson will head to Cal State-Northridge for a rematch against Cal Lutheran and then a game against No. 7 Cal State-Northridge.
The Crimson will close the trip with matchups at No. 2 University of California, Los Angeles and No. 17 UC Santa Barbara. The Bruins, which fell to Stanford in the national semifinals at Blodgett Pool last season, will likely offer the stiffest test of the season for Harvard. Only defending national champion and No. 1 University of Southern California stands between the Bruins and the number one ranking in collegiate water polo.
Free from the pressure of the academic grind, the Crimson will look to refine its game over the break.
“It’s easier to stay mentally prepared now in this stretch than it is when [they] play four games in a weekend, and [they] are studying for midterms and all that stuff that happens when [they] are on campus,” Minnis said.
As the team heads across the country, Harvard will bring a balanced scoring attack that has seen six players record double-digit goals through the season’s first 14 games. Sophomore Yoshi Anderson, a native of Laguna Beach, Calif., leads the team in points with 43, and she also possesses a knack for creating opportunities for the rest of her teammates with 17 assists this year. Senior Shayna Price, who shares the team lead in goals with 26, will also be counted on to lead the way for the Crimson offensively.
On defense, Dukes anchors the Crimson in goal. The junior’s 73 saves thus far this season have been instrumental in helping Harvard pull away in wins and stay competitive in losses.
Of Harvard’s six losses this season, half have been by two goals or fewer. When the Crimson takes an early lead, on the other hand, the team has tended to run away with games. Five of its eight wins this season have come by six goals or more.