On the eve of its final stretch drive for the Ivy League title, the Harvard field hockey team is back in the national rankings.
When Harvard (8-4-1 overall 3-0-1 Ivy) takes the field against a 2-9-1 Dartmouth squad Saturday in Hanover, N.H., it will be the 20th-ranked team in the country. The Crimson moved back into the national polls yesterday, making its first appearance since its 1-0 loss to Springfield three weeks ago.
"We've learned that you don't take records or rankings for granted," Harvard Coach Sue Caples said. "Dartmouth has a lot of talent. They will be very prepared and up to play Harvard. It's an intense rivalry."
The Crimson is coming off its biggest win of the season, a 2-1 decision over traditional nemesis Princeton in New Jersey. Combined with Brown's 1-1 tie with league-leading Penn Saturday, Harvard's win gave it a one-half game lead over the Quakers in the Ivy League race. Harvard can clinch the title with wins over the Big Green Saturday and Brown at Cumnock Field Wednesday.
"Princeton definitely was a significant win," Caples said. "We got the monkey off our back."
Harvard's been here before. Last year, the Crimson also entered its final two league games in first place, but losses to Princeton and Brown gave the title to the Bruins.
However, Caples is confident in her team's abilities.
"They are a low-key group, but you can see the enthusiasm," Caples said. "They are very focused prior to the game, which is nice to see in a young group."
The Crimson is the eighth team from its region in the national rankings this weeks, following Northeastern (ranked 5th), the University of Massachusetts (8th), Providence (10th), New Hampshire (11th), Boston University (13th), Springfield (16th), and the University of Connecticut (17th).
Harvard beat Northwestern, 3-2 , and B.U., 1-0, earlier this year en route to its Boston Fourth championship. All four of the Crimson's losses this season have been to ranked teams: Providence (1-0), New Hampshire (2-0), Springfield and UConn (2-1).
However, thoughts of a bid to the 12-team NCAA tournament are fleeting, according to Caples. Last year, five teams from the region qualified for the tourney, but "it's very unlikely" that more than four will be named to the field this year, Harvard's third-year coach said.
"A lot would have to happen for us to make the NCAA's," Caples said. "We're still one year away."
Harvard's other possibility for post-season action is the ECAC tournament, which will announce its field next week. In ECAC action last year, the Crimson also lost to Princeton.