With 45 minutes left to play, the Harvard women’s soccer team looked to hold onto a 2-0 lead. This exact scenario played out two weeks in a row for the Crimson—the first time against Dartmouth with the Ivy title on the line, the second against Columbia with a perfect Ancient Eight record at stake.
After seeing its lead shrink to one against the Big Green with 25 minutes still left in the second half, the Crimson defense and freshman goalie Lizzie Durack blocked five Dartmouth shots to clinch Harvard’s second Ivy crown in three years.
“I knew that we had won the Ivy title, but I had no idea that the actual trophy would be there that day,” co-captain Peyton Johnson said. “It was really special to get to lift that up on Senior Day at home.”
Just a week later, after surrendering a goal five minutes into the second half, Durack and the defense fought off eight Lion shots to complete Harvard’s first Ivy sweep since 1999 and extend its unbeaten streak to 14 games, the longest such run in program history.
“The team played every minute of every game with everything they had,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “I think that was the unique thing about this group—how they trained, practiced, and played the games.”
For the Crimson, which finished the season 7-0 in the Ancient Eight and 12-4-2 overall, the prospect of an undefeated Ivy record—even a championship title—seemed in jeopardy when the season began.
Harvard opened its campaign with three consecutive losses for the first time since 1996, but a 1-0 win at home against LIU Brooklyn turned its season around and the squad went undefeated over its next 14 games.
The setbacks early on in the year helped the team end up where it did, according to Leone.
“[The losses] taught our team that we need to keep working at it and improving and believing,” Leone said. “All we needed was just that first decent result.”
Harvard built its confidence after breaking a 1-1 tie with Penn in the 79th minute of the conference opener, earning the 2-1 victory.
The matchup against the Quakers was the closest contest for the Crimson in Ancient Eight play until its final two games against Dartmouth and Columbia. In between, Harvard outscored its Ivy opponents, 17-4. This included a 7-2 win against Cornell, which marked the team’s highest offensive output in a single game since 2000.
“We know at Harvard that every Ivy team is out to get us,” co-captain Elizabeth Weisman said. “We always had to be prepared. We all had each other’s backs, and we were all there to support each other and pump each other up before every game.”
The Crimson’s team chemistry reflected that of its leadership. Leone, in his seventh season as Crimson coach, has led Harvard to seven consecutive winning seasons and four Ivy titles. Part of Leone’s and the team’s success comes from the dynamic he has created with the rest of his coaching staff. Leone has coached before with associate head coach Mike Calise, and his two assistant coaches—Chris Hamblin and Kerry Baldwin—also coach a club team together. This extensive experience working together keeps the coaches in the same frame of mind.
“The coaches have helped us achieve a great dynamic,” Weisman said. “They all are amazing at what they do, and are so invested in the team. All of the girls know our coaches are there for us.”
Johnson and Weisman took after their coaches’ styles. The senior duo dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensuring that they were on top of everything and were helping the team run as smoothly as possible. On the field, both players competed in all 18 games of the season and recorded six assists and six goals, respectively.
“Sometimes the captains and seniors will put too much pressure on themselves,” Leone said. “They really didn’t do that [this year]. They just played hard, smiled everyday, and that really carried through.”
Unfortunately for the Crimson, it fell short against crosstown rival Boston University in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Harvard tied the Terriers, 1-1, in a nonconference double overtime contest earlier in the season, when Crimson freshman Midge Purce scored the only goal BU allowed at home in its regular season. But Harvard could not find the back of the net in the postseason, and a Terrier goal in the 75th minute of play ended the Crimson’s season.
“It was such an amazing season, so of course we were upset we couldn’t move onto the next round,” Weisman said. “But we were more upset that our season had to end and that this team wouldn’t be playing together anymore.”
—Staff writer Eileen Storey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.