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Not the ad campaign, not the home-pool advantage, not even the band was enough.
The Harvard men's water polo team came up short this weekend in its bid for an automatic berth in the Eastern championships, falling victim to Massachusetts Saturday, 6-4. Co-Captain John Marshall's six goals sparked the Crimson's 14-9 victory over Boston College yesterday to keep the Crimson in the hunt for one of two wild-card tournament invitations.
For the second consecutive week, Harvard was forced to settle for a third-place tournament finish. But the stakes were higher last weekend for the hosts of the New England Water Polo League Championships. After finishing behind Brown and Princeton at the Ivy League Championships two weeks ago, the Crimson still had aspirations of capturing the remaining automatic bid to Easterns.
Those hopes were dealt a crushing blow Saturday afternoon at Blodgett Pool, where UMass shut down the Crimson in the game that decided which team could safely join Brown in making plane reservations to Annapolis, Md., site of next weekend's Easterns tournament.
While the Minutemen were on the phone to their travel agent, Harvard coach Chris Hafferty said he was wishing "that the band had arrived sooner."
None other than the Harvard Marching Band, which made its post-football appearance at Blodgett with less than two minutes remaining in the match and the Crimson trailing, 6-2.
Why was Hafferty lamenting the fact that the band had not arrived earlier? Does he have some affinity for Harvard fight songs or polyester crimson blazers?
Probably not. But he must have liked what he saw from his team after the band bumbled in, because he could not have enjoyed Harvard's performance to that point.
Through almost four quarters Saturday, the Crimson managed only two goals.
"If you don't score more than a goal a quarter," Marshall said, "you're not going to win any water polo game, especially not against a quality team."
The Minutemen's game plan to shut down the Crimson's lethal offensive weapons, Chad Barker and Marshall, was working.
"Our shot selection was poor," Harvard Coach Chris Hafferty said, "I think we hit the goalie so many times in the face we made him look good."
All that changed when the band showed up.
Perhaps it brought with it some leftover offense from The Stadium, because the band's noisy entrance not only ignited the crowd of more than 100 spectators, but seemingly the Crimson, as well.
Four seconds after the band began its rendition of "10,000 Men of Harvard," Barker beat UMass goalie Todd Larson for the Crimson's first tally since a Bruce Burkley goal three minutes before haltime had tied the game at 2-2.
Forty-four seconds after the band's arrival, Marshall regained the shooting touch that earned him first-team All-Ivy honors, scoring a goal that cut the UMass lead to two.
A Crimson offense that had appeared as anemic through the first 26 minutes of the match as that of the Harvard football team through its first seven games, was suddenly coming to life.
But the water polo team's was a short-lived resurrection. Harvard could not convert two UMass turnovers on successive Minutemen possessions in the match's final minute, even with the support of the band.
The Minutemen held on for the victory that earned them the right to be trounced by Brown in yesterday's championship match, 12-8.
Yesterday's farewell match for the Crimson's senior quarter of Kyle Enright, Tom Killian, Burkley and Marshall was not the Harvard-Brown matchup campus-wide flyers and a quarter-page Crimson advertisement had been touting. Instead, it was Harvard trying to "go out in style," as Burkley put it, with a win over Boston College.
When Hafferty removed his seniors with two minutes to play, that much had been accomplished.
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