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.
After we crowned Andrew Campbell as the top male athlete of 2011, we now turn our attention to the women’s side. First up, golf’s Bonnie Hu v. lacrosse’s Jennifer VanderMeulen and field hockey’s Cynthia Tassopoulos v. two-sport athlete Mel Baskind.
Check back soon to find out the winners on the women's side of the bracket.
Bonnie Hu v. Jennifer VanderMeulen
In 2011, VanderMeulen and Hu established themselves as some of the best of all-time in their respective sports. On the green, Hu averaged a 75.55—the lowest score in Harvard history—and earned a spot at the NCAA regionals, where she finished 41st. VanderMeulen picked up where she left off after a dominant rookie campaign in 2010, leading the Ivy League in scoring and earning a spot on the All-Ivy First Team for the second straight year.
But while Hu, a Crimson business board member, impressed early on in her rookie campaign, she underperformed toward the end of the season, missing the top-11 and All-Ivy honors at the Ancient Eight championships despite helping the Crimson to a second-place finish. VanderMeulen has scored in every game of her college career so far and helped Harvard to its best conference finish in 17 years.
WINNER: Jennifer VanderMeulen
Cynthia Tassopoulos v. Mel Baskind
Both Tassopoulos and Baskind propelled their respective teams to new heights this year. The women’s field hockey team recorded five more wins in 2011 than 2010, and a lot of that can be attributed to Tassopoulos' play in goal. And while other Ivy League goalkeepers with less impressive resumes picked up higher league honors, Tassopoulos arguably ranked as the best in the Ancient Eight.
But while Tassopoulos had a career year in her sport, Baskind can look back at 2011 for two stellar campaigns, as she picked up individual and team honors between her two sports. Many top athletes would have difficulty improving on a soccer season that ended with an All-Ivy selection and a near Ivy League title. But after her stellar junior lacrosse season, the two-sport captain did just that, taking the women’s soccer team all the way to the summit, winning the Ancient Eight crown outright and earning a unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year selection in the process.
Without Tassopoulos, one team might have fared much worse. Without Baskind, two teams would have been without their fearless leader. In the end, that gives Baskind the edge.
WINNER: Mel Baskind