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Espousing the Direct Approach

Soccer's Andrea Montalbano

By Michael R. Grunwald

Andrea Montalbano does not lose her cool often.

But when the senior captain was whistled for a questionable tripping call inside the penalty box during the Harvard women's soccer team's 2-0 loss to Connecticut, she flipped out.

"If I had wanted to trip her," Montalbano screamed at the referee, "I would have tripped her!"

When Montalbano wants to do something, she does it. And when she wants something, she usually gets it. Especially on the soccer field, where the speedy, aggressive sweeper's exploits on defense have earned her First Team All-Ivy honors four years running.

"Andi's always there," stopper Tara Weinstock says. "If Andi's on the girl, we know she's not going to give up until she wins the ball."

Montalbano has a reputation for toughness that extends to her off-field activities. And not exactly an undeserved one.

"I don't know if I'm tough," she says. "I'm pretty direct. I mean, I say what I think. Well, yeah, I guess I'm pretty tough. I get my way most of the time."

Most of the time. But not always. The Crimson never won the Ivy title while Montalbano was on the squad. And the Key Biscayne, Fla., native who was named the Miami Player of the Year in 1985 never got to play her natural position at Harvard.

At Coral Gables High School, Montalbano averaged two goals a game from her center forward position and was recruited as a striker by Harvard Coach Tim Wheaton, then a Crimson assistant. But she was immediately drafted into the depleted defensive corps, and the adjustment was not an easy one.

"In high school, I'd never go back on defense," she recalls. "I'd just get the ball and say, 'All right, get out of my way.' But when I got here, I was basically going to play wherever they told me to."

And play she did. Ten seconds into the season opener, Coach Bob Scalise inserted Montalbano into the game at sweeper to replace an injured Harvard starter. She started every other game over the next four years as Harvard's penultimate line of defense.

"Not happily, mind you," Wheaton points out. Montalbano argued with him about her position ever since he was promoted to head coach before her sophomore season. She always argued that the low-scoring Crimson needed her offensive firepower up front. He always replied that her skills and determination were more valuable to the team on defense. And he always won.

Close Relations

"The main reason I wouldn't put her up there is that I'd never hear the end of it," Wheaton jokes. "If I put her at forward and she scored, she'd be saying `I told you so' the rest of my life."

Through all of their fighting, the two antagonists have forged a close friendship. Next year, Montalbano way return to Harvard to work as Wheaton's assistant coach, leading the JV program and working with her successor at the varsity sweeper position.

"We're both sort of straightforward and blunt with each other," Montalbano explains. "If I don't like something he's doing, I'll tell him. He does the same to me. We've had a bantering relationship where I don't take any of his crap and he doesn't take mine."

"We both have that brusque, say-what-you-want-I-don't-care attitude," Wheaton agrees.

While Wheaton never allowed his star to move up to the forward line, he never discouraged her from spearheading the Crimson attack with her patented frays upfield from the traditionally stodgy, stay-at-home sweeper position. Still, she rarely violated her defensive philosophy: "The ball can get by you, or the girl can get by you, but they can't both get by you."

The transition from player to assistant coach can be a difficult one, even for a respected team leader like Montalbano. But it is one the anthropology concentrator is looking forward to making--not only because she loves coaching (according to fullback Tory Fair, who co-coaches a local youth team with Montolbano, she takes fierce control of team discipline), but because she wants to be a part of the Crimson when it cops that elusive Ivy championship.

"I can't stop thinking about that corner kick against Brown," says Montalbano, recalling the Ivy-deciding goal by the Bruins in Providence last October. "We came so close. I wanted it so badly..."

Andi Montalbano still wants it. And remember what happens when she wants things.

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