The second half proved to be the downfall for the Harvard women’s water polo team on Sunday afternoon, as the Crimson fell at the hands of No. 7 Princeton, 11-9, at DeNunzio Pool.
Harvard (7-3, 0-1 CWPA) managed only two goals in the second half after scoring seven in the first stanza on the road against the undefeated Tigers (11-0, 1-0).
After heading into halftime down 8-7, the Crimson kept the game close but never grabbed hold of the lead at any point during the final 16 minutes of play.
Perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the second half was Princeton’s sophomore goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, who recorded 17 saves in the final three quarters after stopping zero shots in the first. Although the Crimson outshot the Tigers, 30 to 24, the team had a hard time getting it by Princeton’s netminder late in the game.
“[Johnson is] a very talented goalie,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “She made some good blocks.”
To explain the Crimson’s offensive struggles in the second half, junior co-captain Ariel Dukes pointed to a lack of aggression in creating chances.
“I think it came down to our movement,” Dukes said. “They did a great job of covering up, but I think we also could have done a better job of continuing our drives that worked so well in the first half.
After a power play goal from junior co-captain Shayna Price gave the Crimson a 6-4 advantage with 5:32 to play in the second quarter, Harvard allowed three goals in a 77 second span to fall behind by one. The sequence proved costly for the Crimson, as the Tigers never trailed for the rest of the game.
Princeton’s offense came alive during the second quarter and remained hot after the halftime break. The three-goal stretch was part of a 5-1 run for the Tigers, and Diana Murphy capped it off with an unassisted goal 51 seconds into the third quarter.
Murphy proved to be the catalyst in Princeton’s scoring barrage, netting four of her five goals during the pivotal run.
Price and sophomore Yoshi Anderson paced Harvard with three goals each, as both teams came out firing in a back-and-forth first quarter. Price struck first less than a minute into the game, and the period ended with the Crimson on top 5-4.
“I thought we did a good job of executing our offensive game plan,” Minnis said. “I was happy with the way we played overall.”
Though the day ultimately ended in a loss for Harvard, Dukes noted that the team never allowed the Tigers to take a commanding lead during the game, which was televised on ESPNU.
“I thought we came out with a lot of intensity,” Dukes said. “We know they’re a really good team, and even though we lost I was very proud of our effort throughout the game. I don’t think we ever let them run away with it; I thought we kept it close.”
The largest lead of the game for either team was two goals, as both squads continually answered each other’s scores throughout. During the second half, the Crimson never allowed Princeton to push its lead to three, answering the Tigers on two separate occasions to pull within one.
But Harvard could not muster a tying strike late in the game despite repeated attempts on goal.
“We just didn’t catch a break,” Minnis said. “We hit a couple posts, a couple bars down the stretch. [We] had some good looks but just didn’t finish.”
Freshmen Alexis Del Toro and Michelle Martinelli, along with sophomore Charlotte Hendrix, each scored a goal for the Crimson. Junior Victoria Frager added two assists, and Dukes registered six saves in goal for Harvard.
Both Dukes and Minnis noted that playing a close game against Princeton, a top national team, serves as a good learning experience and prepares the squad for future challenges. The Crimson will host three top-20 teams at Blodgett Pool this weekend.
“We know…we can play with anyone,” Dukes said. “So I think it’s a matter of taking that confidence and continuing to work on our practical application.”
“For us, its gaining confidence to be able to play against the top teams in the country,” Minnis added. “If we want to get to that point, we have to take away some things from [this game] and gain some confidence. I think we did that.”