In a game with big Ivy League implications, the Harvard women’s lacrosse team suffered a sound defeat against conference rival Princeton, 15-6, on Saturday at Harvard Stadium. Coming into the contest, both the Crimson (7-5, 3-2 Ivy) and the Tigers (8-4, 4-1) had identical overall and league marks, and the two squads were tied for second in the conference.
In the opening minutes of play, the game looked as if it would be an even matchup. An early Princeton goal was quickly answered by Harvard freshman attacker Marisa Romeo, who took advantage of one-on-one defense to score her league-leading 38th goal of the year with 22:58 left in the first half.
“We were really just trying to control and maintain possession for longer than they could,” Romeo said. “That was basically the game plan coming in.”
But the situation quickly got worse for the Crimson, as the Tigers utilized a very efficient offensive attack to wear down the Harvard defense and create scoring opportunities for themselves.
In one of its first possessions of the game, Princeton set the tone by running down nearly five minutes of clock and finishing with a goal by junior midfielder Erin Slifer.
Slifer would prove to be a thorn in the Crimson’s side throughout the contest, as she racked up a career-high seven points on four goals and three assists.
“Slifer is one of our players who's getting better and better,” Tigers’ coach Chris Sailer said. “She's strong and powerful, and she's learned to switch up her shots more to keep the goalies guessing. She also sees the field really well, and has a lot of success finding open teammates.”
Princeton moved the ball quickly from player to player, looking for openings in the Harvard defense and taking advantage of free positions given away by penalties called against the Crimson. The Tigers would go an impressive six-for-six on free position shots throughout the day.
“That ended up having a big impact on the game,” Romeo said. “We got kind of unlucky on a lot of calls throughout the game, [but] we just kind of have to expect that not every call is going to be in favor of us.”
It quickly became clear that if the Harvard team was to be competitive, it would have to take advantage of every offensive opportunity that came to it. However, this proved to be a struggle as the Crimson was plagued by turnovers, giving up the ball 14 times.
“They really threw us off guard by sporadically changing their matchup plan with different people and different numbers of people on us," Romeo said. "But we’ll know how to handle it next time.”
The game’s most crucial stretch came with about two minutes remaining in the first half. Harvard had just shrunk the Princeton lead to 6-3 off of an unassisted goal by sophomore midfielder Audrey Todd, and the Crimson immediately won back possession. It seemed as though it would have a chance to get its offense in position, let the clock wind down, and hopefully score a goal to go into the second half with a manageable two-point deficit.
“We were just trying to chip away and get closer and closer,” Romeo said. “They were starting to pull away. We were just trying to work for a good possession but not force the shot.”
Instead, a yellow card issued against Harvard allowed the Tigers to take the ball back with 1:55 left in the half. Princeton would take advantage of the turnover, quickly putting two points on its side of the board on back-to-back goals by midfielder Anya Gersoff. What could have been a 6-4 contest instead became an 8-3 spread.
Things went from bad to worse, as the Tigers piled on three more unanswered goals to put the game at a daunting 11-3 mark four minutes into the second half.
“That momentum was huge for us at the end of the first half,” Sailer said. “Then to be able to come out and score the first three second half goals and expand the lead definitely was the turning point.”
But the Crimson continued to fight back. When it did get its offense in position, it showed flashes of the brilliance that has made the Harvard attack one of the most potent in the Ivy League this year. Todd and Romeo both took advantage of defensive mismatches, striking for two unassisted goals each. In addition, Alexis Nicolia and Sophia Capone both capitalized on free position shots and put in one goal each.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the momentum Princeton had already gained would prove to be too much to overcome, as the Tigers held on the rest of the way.