Last year, the University of Connecticut offense earned the Huskies the national field hockey championship. This season, the Harvard defense--until yesterday--had allowed just three goals in leading the Crimson to a 5-0-1 record. Something had to give.
Thirteen minutes into yesterday's showdown between UConn (10-1) and the Harvard stick women, the Crimson defense finally gave--albeit grudgingly--and the Huskies went on to post a 3-1 victory over their previously undefeated hosts.
Nearly all of the contest was fought out in front of the nets, with midfield play reserved for short transitions between five-minute assaults on goal. The Huskies did most of the assaulting, earning an 11-7 advantage in penalty corners.
Field hockey goals usually come on short corners, but only one of yesterday's four tallies was scored off a penalty, and that one was scored off a penalty shot.
The stick women allowed as many goals yesterday as they have in the year's six previous contests. But the three UConn goals scored reflect less a collapse of the Crimson defense than the powerful offense of the nation's top team.
The final Husky tally, netted with just 15 seconds remaining in the game, was pushed into a virtually undefended Harvard goal. With time running out and her team needing a score to tie the match, Crimson Coach Edie Mabrey brought her defense into the attack, leaving netminder Juliet Lamont to fend for herself.
When the Huskies broke through the Harvard ranks, they had a three-on-one edge, and even Ivy Player-of-the-Week Lamont couldn't overcome those odds. The Crimson goalie came out of the net to cut down the angle, but UConn's Rose Smith pushed it by for her second tally of the day.
For the first 45 minutes of the game, Harvard's defense seemed impermeable. The Huskies took the attack in the opening minutes of the contest, and the Crimson defenders never got much time to rest. UConn unleashed some dangerous shots, but Harvard always found a way to block them.
The Huskies upped their pressure in the second stanza, getting more and more follow-up shots off rebounds. After several near-misses, the UConn aggressiveness finally paid off. A shot forced Lamont to the ground to make a save, and Husky Laurie Decker pushed the ball back towards the net. When the ball jammed between Lamont's knees, the Crimson goaltender was called for covering the ball, and earned the Huskies a penalty shot. Cindy Dysenchuk lifted the ball into the upper left corner, and UConn notched the game's first score.
"Once we took the stroke, that started the scoring momentum," Husky Coach Denise Descutels said after the match, explaining that breaking the deadlock gave her team an important psychological edge.
The edge didn't last long, however, as Harvard struck back just over a minute later. Senior Kate Martin picked up the ball in the Crimson half, moved to center field and then drove through the Husky defense. The speedy Harvard right wing outdistanced several back-tracking opponents, and only a UConn obstruction just outside the top of the penalty area prevented Martin from capping her drive with an attempt at goal.
Co-Captain Maureen Finn took the penalty hit, pushing it to Martin just inside the circle. Martin deflected the ball to the left where fellow wing Jennifer White picked up the errant ball. White slapped the ball across the pads of Husky goaltender Lynn Kotler, and into the right side of the net. The 15-yard smash knotted the score 14 minutes into the second half.
"The ball was just lying there on the ground with no one there," said White of the ball she netted for the stick women's only score.
With each offense buoyed by its first tally of the game, action intensified on both ends of the field. Martin nearly gave Harvard a 2-1 edge when she pressed into the penalty circle 17:22 into the half. Kotler came out from between the posts just in time to obstruct Martin's attempted shot from eight yards out. The obstruction earned the Crimson a penalty corner, but Harvard failed to capitalize on it and never got that close to scoring again.
Just seven minutes later, UConn got a chance when it penetrated just right of the Harvard goal mouth. A centering pass that came out of the soup of players and sticks could have been taken by either of two Husky attackers, and Lamont didn't have enough time to readjust when the first let it go through to Smith. Smith's 11-yard drive crossed into the undefended left side of the net, and UConn held a 2-1 advantage with less than 11 minutes remaining in the contest.
THE NOTEBOOK: Ivy cellar-dweller Cornell should provide a welcome change of pace from national champ UConn when the Big Red comes to town tomorrow morning. Cornell went winless in league play during the last three years. Harvard brings a 1-0 Ivy record into tomorrow's contest.
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