The Back Page's Athlete of 2011, Round 1: VanderMeulen v. Hu

Published by Martin Kessler and Robert S Samuels on January 13, 2012 at 3:12AM

2011 was a big year in Harvard athletics. Women’s soccer captured its third Ivy League championship in four years. The men’s basketball team took home a share of the Ancient Eight title and entered the nation’s Top 25, both firsts in program history. Football set a modern-era program record for points in a season, scoring 374 points en route to a 9-1 finish and a league crown. Four other teams—men’s fencing, men’s heavyweight and lightweight crew, and softball—also finished 2011 on top of the Ivy League standings.

There were a number of standout individual performances as well. Women’s fencer Alexandra Kiefer captured the NCAA Foil Individual title. Men’s basketball forward Keith Wright became just the second player in Harvard history to take home Ivy League Player of the Year honors. Women’s soccer and lacrosse captain Melanie Baskind was named to the First Team All-Ivy in two different sports and was selected as the Ivy League Player of the Year in soccer.

We at The Back Page have taken on the tall task of determining the best Harvard athlete of 2011. Here’s how it will go down: we’ve selected 16 standout Harvard athletes—eight male and eight female—and set up two single elimination brackets. Each round, Harvard’s finest will square off in head-to-head matchups. And based on their performances in 2011, we will determine who advances and who is eliminated until just one male and one female remain. Then, the two champs will square off to determine the top Harvard athlete of 2011.

Yesterday we took a look at the matchup between Alexandra Kiefer and Josephine Pucci. Now, we turn our attention to our third showdown on the women’s side: lacrosse's Jennifer VanderMeulen v. golf's Bonnie Hu.

Attacker Jennifer VanderMeulen — 48 goals, five assists, 10 ground balls, 23 draw controls

After a freshman season in which she posted an Ivy League leading 56 scores and finished third in the nation with 3.73 goals per game, Jennifer VanderMeulen returned for more this past spring. While her sophomore numbers were down—she finished with eight fewer goals—VanderMeulen’s role as the Crimson’s offensive leader didn’t change. Once again, VanderMeulen led Harvard and the Ivy League in scoring and posted three game-winning goals.

VanderMeulen’s performance not only earned her a place on the All-Ivy First Team for the second time in as many years, it also helped the Crimson to a 5-2 Ivy League finish, the program’s best finish in conference play since 1994. While Harvard did not end up in the NCAA tournament, VanderMeulen helped the Crimson reach the championship of the Ivy League tournament.

Bonnie Hu — 75.55 scoring average, 41st overall at NCAA Regionals (2010-11 season)

Billed as a “Freshman to Watch” by Golfweek Magazine, Bonnie Hu didn’t disappoint in her rookie campaign, putting together the top statistical season in Harvard women’s golf history. Her scoring average of 75.55 was the lowest in program history, and she earned the first-ever bid to the NCAA Regionals, where she finished 41st overall.

Hu, a Crimson business editor, rattled off a number of impressive outings at the beginning of the season, including a one-under 71 against Cal to tie for the best score of the day. The freshman fell into a slump near the end of the season, though, finishing out of the top 11 in the Ivy League Championships and failing to qualify for any league accolades. Opening the tournament with an 80 and a 79, well over her season average, Hu found her form on the final day, shooting a 73 to help propel the Crimson to a second-place finish in the league.

In the young 2011-12 season, Hu has played a critical role in two Crimson tournament victories. In the year’s first competition, the Yale Invitational, Hu shot a seven-over 223, good for fifth place out of the 78 competitors. At the following week’s Princeton Invitational, the sophomore turned in another sterling performance, shooting an eight-over 224 to finish eighth in a field of 62. Through four tournaments this year, Hu has averaged a 75.6.