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It looked like it was going to be a long season.
More than half of Harvard's varsity women's water polo team had never played the game, and it seemed that the Crimson was going to have a hard time even treading water against tough teams in the East.
Last night the squad faced off against the MIT club team at Blodgett Pool for its first game since spring break. The swimmers in the Crimson caps had already fallen twice to the Engineers, but Harvard Coach Chris Hafferty was looking forward to the contest with cautious hopes.
"We enjoy playing them a lot," Hafferty said. "They're tough competition, but playing them is how we're going to get better."
As it turns out, Harvard has already gotten better. The Crimson never trailed as it outswam and outshot MIT in a 16-11 victory. Freshman Jen Gahan stole the show, firing in seven of the team's goals, while goalies Kelly McAnaney and Mel Berger anchored a strong defense that turned away shot after shot.
The Crimson sprinted out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals by freshman Skyler Satenstein, who added two more tallies in the contest, and Tri-Captain Kathy Kitayama. Both squads continued to light up the scoreboard--by halftime the Crimson was sitting on top of a 10-7 lead.
Tri-Captain Gillian Salton, who netted four goals of her own, burned the MIT goalie just 36 seconds into the second half on a sweet turnaround in the hole. Gahan followed up a minute and a half later with the Harvard's 12th goal to give the Crimson all the points that it would need.
The Crimson stretched their lead to 16-10 after three quarters and then shifted into a stall offense and a stonewall defense for the final quarter, allowing the Engineers only one goal on a Hail Mary toss from half a pool length away with only two seconds left to play.
Salton, who netted four goals last night, credits the turnaround in the team's performance to a vigorous spring break training schedule in Fort Lauderdale that included four hours of water polo a day in an 84 degree outdoor pool. Sipping margaritas in the jacuzzi and partying with other college students was not on the schedule.
"We had been rushing too much before spring break and so we spent a lot of time working on slowing the pace down on our frontcourt offense," Salton said. "The vacation really helped us work together better and the four hour workouts got us in even better shape."
Salton also added that the intensive training over the break also raised the level of play of the less experienced players who weren't very familiar with the game, not to mention their teammates.
"They're coming along really well and they're working together well with the rest of the team," Salton said. "They're now at the point where they can sub in and hold their own in the pool."
Hard Work Pays Off
Coach Hafferty was very pleased with the win and credited the team's hard work over spring break as the main reason for the underdog victory.
"We did a lot of things right tonight by stopping turnovers, not forcing passes, controlling the ball longer, and recognizing the plays sooner. Four hours of water polo a day will do that."
But the story of the game was Gahan, who added a breakaway assist on a Salton goal to her double hat trick plus one. She terrorized MIT netminder Julia Hendrix from the point throughout the game, and added a first-quarter penalty shot and a third-period tally from down low.
THE NOTEBOOK: Last night's victory will definitely be a morale builder for the squad which heads into a home tournament this Saturday at Blodgett Pool against Brown (who defeated the Crimson before spring break) and MIT's A and B squads.
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