Returning home after playing its first two games of the season in California, the Harvard women’s lacrosse team fought through in-game adversity to come out victorious in its home opener.
The Crimson (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) faced off against Cornell (1-1, 0-1) at Soldiers Field Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday afternoon to open the season’s conference play. This is the first time in three years that Harvard has been able to defeat the Big Red.
The matchups was tight throughout, with no team leading by more than two goals until the last 30 seconds of the match, when freshman midfielder Maeve McMahon scored for her third time on the day with 18 seconds left to seal the Crimson’s 10-7 victory.
“It came down to the last 20 seconds or so and the defender came out,” McMahon said. “I saw [freshman] Megan [Hennessey] was matched up with her and had the ball. I kind of just snuck up the middle there and she fed me a great pass that I put into the net.”
It took some time for Harvard to mesh offensively, going down 3-2 early in the first half. Sophomore midfielder Audrey Todd tied the game with help from freshman attacker Marisa Romeo and senior attacker Kylie Keating put the Crimson ahead on an assist from Todd.
The Big Red maintained its lead and went ahead at halftime by scoring twice and shutting out Harvard for the remainder of the half.
“We were a little timid to start with, but I’m pleased with the way we gutted it out and the way we fought back and the way we sort of got more aggressive as the game went on,” Harvard coach Lisa Miller said. “I saw some great things in we got tougher and more determined as the game went on and made plays when we had to.”
The Crimson sticks came alive in the second half, scoring goals on back-to-back drives to go up 7-6. Sophomore attacker Alexis Nicolia scored on a well-executed spin move to tie the game at six and Romeo followed up with an unassisted goal that put Harvard ahead.
Defense was also a strong suit in the second half for the Crimson, giving up only one goal in the final 30 minutes of play. Throughout the entire game Harvard was able to pressure the Big Red into committing 13 turnovers while giving the ball away eight times.
“I think transition in the midfield is a big part of what helped us in the second half,” McMahon said. “It helped us move the ball well and got the ball to the outside. We also got some big stops on the defensive end that helped us get momentum.”
Sophomore Kelly Weis got the start in goal for the Crimson and made nine saves in the net. Harvard outshot Cornell 26-25 during the match, with Big Red goalie Renee Poullott making seven saves in goal. The Crimson tailed its opponent in ground balls and draw controls, however, with 14 (to 15) and eight (to 11) respectively.
McMahon recorded the first of her career in the victory. McMahon and senior attacker Chloe Soukas had two draw controls each and sophomore attacker Amelia Capone had two ground balls and caused two turnovers.
“[We told the girls to] be assertive, be aggressive and not be afraid to make a mistake,” Miller said. “I think we’re at our best when we’re playing with speed and we’re aggressive. We’re young so I think there a bit that we’re feeling our way through it but I think we’re better when we’re trying to play at tempo.”
So far this season, McMahon and Romeo have been integral parts to Harvard’s offense, scoring a combined 15 goals in the first three games of their college lacrosse careers. Romeo leads the team with nine goals and 12 points in her rookie season.
“The biggest adjustment from high school to college is that everything is a little more sophisticated and the game moves faster,” Miller said. “Freshmen need to adjust to the tempo and I think there’s a need for a little bit more control. In high school if you’re the best player you have the ball and you run past people where in college there’s a lot more teamwork.”
—Staff writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.