The grass was artificial and the competition was tougher, but the Harvard field hockey team remained undefeated as it nipped Penn, 1-0, in the Crimson's Ivy League opener Saturday at Franking Field in Philadelphia.
Weary from their early-morning trip from Cambridge, the 5-0-1 Stickwomen nevertheless kept pace with the Quakers in a back-and-forth struggle that saw neither team manage a first half score.
Seven minutes into the second half, Lili Pew stroked a Harvard penalty corner to Beth Mullen at the top of the penalty circle Mullen took the stick stop and launched a rocket toward the Quaker not. The ball boomed against the backboard, and the Crimson had the day's only score.
The play to Mullen at the top of the circle was nothing new, but its success was. The Stick women have had trouble executing the move all year, with different players taking the corner hit in.
It's the first time we've gotten a clean score off a corner this season," Crimson Coach Edie Mabrey said. Her charges practiced short corners last week and will continue to work on them this week.
Slammed the Door
One aspect of the Harvard game that doesn't need much work is defense, where the stick women have slammed the door on their opponents all season. In six contests, Crimson netminder Juliet Lamont has let only three shots past her.
Lamont doesn't make a lot of diving saves; she positions herself so well she rarely has to. In fact, the Harvard goalie hasn't had to make many saves at all, thanks to the backfield play of Ellen O'Neill. Toby Carroll, Mullen and Maureen Finn. The defensive unit has played together for more than a year now, and its strength, size and experience shatter opposing offenses.
"I don't worry when the ball goes into our defending 50 yards," Mabrey said, explaining that her defense's abilities allow her to concentrate on counterattack rather than crossing her fingers against a defensive breakdown.
Another comfort for the Harvard mentor is her team's great depth. All 16 Stick women on this year's roster have made on-field contributions to the Crimson cause. Saturday, Trina Burnham stood out off the bench, easily fitting into the flow of play and providing needs support to the Stickwomen's attack.
"I know if something goes wrong I can find someone to fill the spot." Mabrey said.
Mabrey added that she may use her depth to juggle her lineup in preparation for Harvard's showdown with defending NCAA champion UConn Thursday. Earlier in the year, she was hesitant to alter her combination for fear of losing her team's chemistry, but now she feels that any combination of players can play well together.
THE NOTEBOOK: The Crimson had a hectic morning of traveling that started with a 6 a.m. bus to Logan Airport. The flight was late. By the time the stickwomen got to Franklin Field, they had little time to get taped and warm up...There was no shortage of Harvard supporters at the game; eight stick women had family members cheering them on. Fans arriving early for the Penn-Columbia football game swelled the crowd, while football players warmed up on the sidelines during the second half of the field hockey contest.