Tomorrow, the Harvard women’s soccer team begins its defense of the Ivy League championship title.
The Crimson guns for its fourth title in five years as it first takes on Penn (1-5-2, 0-0 Ivy League) for both teams’ conference-opener. Harvard (6-3, 0-0) will be returning home to Jordan Field after having some time to recover from last weekend’s double-header, away games at Villanova and Seton Hall. While the squad fell to Villanova 2-1, it regrouped to blank Seton Hall, 3-0.
“We’re in a good place,” said Crimson coach Chris Hamblin. “It’s good to have a week’s reset after playing three games in five days; that took its toll on us, but the team is resting, recovering, and excited.”
On Saturday afternoon, Harvard looks to get a head start in conference play, coming off the heels of last year’s nail-biting triumph that came down to the last weekend of the season. Going for the crown again, however, will mean adjusting to the loss of last year’s top three scorers, including two-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Midge Purce ’17.
So far, the new squad has proven to be up to the challenge. Senior co-captain Caroline Chagares emphasized the team’s “young talent,” saying “everyone has stepped into new roles” on the team. Hamblin agreed, praising the “positive team culture.”
“The way that the team accepted the young players and really supported them through their transition to college is a huge component [of] how we’re able to be in sync right now,” Hamblin said. “For us, this year, we’re focusing on being the best version of ourselves.”
The Crimson’s best version of themselves is perhaps the version with solid defense. After posting four shutouts in its first eight games, Harvard did it again, recording its fifth shutout of the season against Seton Hall.
The Crimson now sits on a goals-against average of 0.65, a number that may perhaps pose a challenge to Penn’s offense. Goalie Kat Hess’s four saves also tied a career-best.
“Defending for us is really not a positional thing, it’s a culture,” said Hamblin. “We’ve been really proud of how we’ve executed that plan, but you can’t spend your whole time defending. You’ve got to attack as well, and we’ve done a much better job of finding that balance over the last three games.”
On the offensive end, junior midfielder Leah Mohammadi leads the team in goals (4) and points (9), the latter of which ties a career high. The team has had an average of 9.1 shots a game, including a season-high 11 against Syracuse.
On the other hand, Penn is coming off a two-game losing streak, having been outscored 3-8 this season. Sunday’s loss against George Mason also saw the Quakers shut out, 2-0.
But the scoreboard doesn’t reveal it all—Penn has also had high shot totals so far, and it’s perhaps only a matter of time until the shots start to pay off. Quaker senior Erica Higa leads the team in goals (2) and points (4).
“All the Ivy League teams have been playing tough competition in non-conference games in order to better prepare themselves,” Chagares said. “Penn is always a great team regardless of some recent results, and we know it’s going to be a really competitive game.”
One year ago, Harvard also took on the Quakers in opening its Ivy League season. The similarities are few, though; Penn was just as hot as the Crimson last year, and the game was played in Philadelphia.
“I don’t really think it makes sense to compare teams,” said Hamblin. “Every year you have a new team.”
Still, Harvard will hope that history repeats itself. The Crimson has won its Ivy opener, whether home or away, against Penn since 2013.
Speaking of history and repeating, Harvard will also set its sights on the Ivy League title. The Crimson went back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and the team does not plan on aiming for any less this year. But they’re careful not to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re just trying to make the most of every game,” Chagares said.
“We know that winning Ivy League championships isn’t something you wish for, it’s something you work for,” said Hamblin.
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