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For the Harvard women's water polo team, Blodgett Pool--the site of this weekend's women's water polo Harvard Invitational--is more than just a place to swim. It's the squad's own backyard.
There is something that stirs within an athlete when playing at home. Dignity, a sense of responsibility, desire--all suitably express the intangibles that can act as a driving force for the hosting competitor.
Whatever forces did inspire the Crimson this weekend, they were strong enough to overcome fatigue and Brown, 7-4, in the final game of the round-robin competition Saturday to clinch the invitational title.
From the onset, Harvard (8-0) was challenged. Coach Chris Hafferty, who expected close games from both MIT and Queens, immediately saw one prediction become a gross reality Friday night as MIT gave Harvard one of its most thrilling scares of the season before Harvard pulled out a 8-7 win.
The lead changed hands several times during the contest. MIT fired in the first point, and Harvard answered by scoring two quick goals. After several scoreless minutes, Harvard led the offensive with two tallies. With only 53 seconds left in the first period, MIT narrowed the lead to 4-2.
MIT took advantage of a quick-paced second period and tied the game, 4-4. With nearly half of the period left, MIT scored again and an apparently-tiring Harvard found itself behind, 5-4.
The momentum finally shifted when the Crimson tightened its defense and mustered a goal. MIT, feeling the pressure, pushed in one more goal at the 1:03 mark to regain the advantage.
After winning the third-period-swimoff, a rejuvenated Harvard squad scored before 50 seconds had expired to deadlock the game, 6-6.
Marred by heavy fouling from its aggressive style of play, Harvard gave MIT several power-play opportunities, and MIT scored to lead, 7-6.
Both teams were drained by the fourth period, which may have accounted for the low-scoring final quarter. The Crimson, however, swam with a firm resolve and tied the score with 4:45 remaining.
A ferocious defense gave the Harvard offense, behind the arm of Tara Gustilo, a scoring opportunity late in the quarter. Gustilo's shot bounced off the top post and back to her, and she proceeded to stuff in the rebound with 1:35 to go.
Fortunately, Harvard did not celebrate early, because MIT kept the pressure on the Crimson goal. With 10 seconds remaining, an MIT shot glanced wide off the left post, and Harvard finally had its third win over MIT this season.
Harvard went on to defeat the other team Hafferty predicted to play well, Queens, a little more soundly than the 7-5 count suggests.
"Queens gave us a physical challenge, but we handled them and pulled away," Co-Captain Eileen Pratt said.
Harvard romped over Princeton, 14-4, and was beating Boston College, 11-0, before slowing to an 11-7 final. The squad's final match against Brown was more of a test.
"We beat Brown earlier in the year, 10-3, and we went in to this one relaxed and sluggish," said Co-Captain Stacey Moran. "We'd just beaten our 'toughest' competition, and Brown took us by surprise."
Indeed, Harvard down 4-3 at the half, had to rally spirits to win 7-4 and capture the tournament title.
THE NOTEBOOK: Harvard will compete in the Brown Invitational next weekend in Providence.
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