A year after finishing undefeated in Ivy League play for the first time since 1999, the Harvard women’s soccer team is ready to continue its success in 2014.
The Crimson knows from experience that may be easier said than done. In the past six years, Harvard has won the Ivy League Championship every other year, capturing the title in 2009, 2011, and 2013. The team hopes to change this pattern in 2014.
“Coming off an Ivy Championship, we can’t get complacent,” co-captain Marie Margolius said. “We can’t be on too much of a high because that doesn’t put us in a good position for this year.”
With seven seniors and all but two starters returning, Harvard will have a wealth of leadership and experience on the field this fall as it looks to stay atop the Ancient Eight.
Despite losing first team All-Ivy defender, Peyton Johnson, the Crimson returns six other 2013 All-Ivy selections. Sophomore forward Midge Purce, who garnered both Ivy League Rookie and Player of the Year accolades last season, will again lead Harvard’s attack. Purce returns to the lineup joined by junior midfielder Haley Washburn, senior defender Erika Garcia, senior goalie Cheta Emba, senior midfielder Meg Casscells-Hamby, and Margolius.
In addition to the strong core of seasoned players, the team welcomes six freshmen. Both captains expressed excitement about the incoming freshmen and the contributions they have already made both on and off the field.
“The freshmen have already had an impact,” Casscells-Mamby said. “They each bring something individually that’s very different, but it’s all very important for our team dynamic.”
Head coach Ray Leone, who has led Harvard to four Ivy League Championships during his seven-year tenure, knows from experience that talent is not enough. He has emphasized both mental and physical preparation in the weeks leading up to this season.
“[Leone]’s been working really hard with us on just staying focused on the current moment,” co-captain Meg Casscells-Hamby said. “Whether it’s a practice or a game, we try to stay focused and energetic.”
For his returning players, Leone’s emphasis on the importance of focusing on the immediate future is nothing new. But this season, he has pushed physical fitness in a way he has never before.
“We hope to be the fittest team in the Ivy League,” said Casscells-Hamby. “We don’t want anyone to outwork us.”
Leone and his squad hope that this preparation will pay off, especially in the team’s opening nonconference slate. Last season, the Crimson struggled out of the gate with three consecutive losses for the first time since 1996.
“Each one of those losses taught us something,” Margolius said. “And we really, truly believed in ourselves. We believed in what we could do as a team. That was never in question.”
The team’s confidence and optimism paid off in 2013. Harvard turned it around after an 0-3-1 start, going undefeated in its next 14 games to set the longest winning streak in team history. On that stretch, the Crimson outscored its opponents, 36-9.
Harvard intends to build off that momentum in its 2014 campaign, which opens this weekend with a pair of nonconference games. The Crimson will face San Francisco at home on Friday, and then travel to take on Providence on Sunday.
After this weekend, Harvard will play five more non-conference games before opening Ivy League play against Penn, the second-place finisher in the Ancient Eight last season.
As the Crimson gets set to defend its title, the team intends to take the same approach that it did last season.
“We take each game in stride,” Margolius said. “The highs are never too high and the lows are never too low… that’s something we live by.
—Staff writer Eileen Storey can be reached at email@example.com.