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The Harvard women's soccer team stunned ninth-ranked Massachusetts with a thrilling 1-0 victory at Ohiri Field yesterday.
Senior midfielder Skyler Vinton scored her first goal of the season to lead the Crimson to its improbable win.
The win raises the Crimson's record to 5-3-1 (2-1-0 Ivy), while the Minutewomen fall to 8-3-0.
Harvard was the heavy underdog in this contest, but the team was unfazed by the challenge.
"In past games, we've given our opponent too much respect. That didn't happen here," Crimson Coach Tim Wheaton said.
The Massachusetts defense, which had only given up four goals in 10 games, was unprepared for the early ferocity of the Crimson attack.
The Harvard offense, led by Co-Captain Robin Johnston, Laurie Uustal and Jen Minkus, penetrated the Minutewomen's vaunted defense with relative ease, but they were unable to generate good scoring chances.
Midway through the first half, Massachusetts tightened its game and began to apply pressure to the Crimson defense.
The Minutewomen owned the skies, winning virtually every header, and prevented the Crimson defense from clearing the ball.
But Harvard held firm. Co-Captain Amy Weinstein, sweeper Erin Matias, Vinton and sophomore Meg Berte repulsed every attack.
"Our defense was really strong today," Wheaton said.
Several times during the half, the Crimson offense was able to relieve the crushing pressure of the Massachusetts offense. Breakaways by Minkus, Johnston, and junior Kristy Gaschler kept the Minutewomen's defense from fully committing to the attack.
With six minutes left in the half, the Crimson made one of these breakaways count.
Uustal took possession of the ball at midfield and fought through four defenders before passing to Johnston. Johnston deferred the shot to Vinton, who flicked a high, slow, arcing shot into the upper left corner of the net to notch her first goal of the season.
The story of the second half was Crimson goalie Brooke Donahoe and the Crimson defense, as they fought off a seemingly endless wave of attacks by the desperate Massachusetts' offense.
Donahoe, who has been plagued by bad decision-making in past games, made all the right calls in the second half as she snuffed breakaways, broke up corner kicks and stonewalled the Massachusetts attack.
Matias, Weinstein, Vinton and Berte shut down the Minutewomen's most dangerous offensive weapons. Star Minutewoman forward Kim Eynard was virtually eliminated as an effective threat.
As time wound down, the energy level of the game increased. Johnston was brought back to play defense, and she helped to frustrate the frantic Massachusetts attack.
"We didn't want to pack the box," Wheaton said. "But, up 1-0, we had to play a conservative game."
The crushing pressure was only occasionally broken by Minkus and Uustal, with help from sophomores Betsy Miller and Laura Flynn. Short drives allowed the defense to catch its breath.
In the final minutes, Harvard abandoned its short passing game in favor of booming kicks downfield. Massachusetts would not die, but the Crimson held on and secured the biggest win of its season so far.
"Everything clicked for us," Uustal said. "We'd been unlucky before, but not today."
"We never gave up," Wheaton said. "We played smart and hard, and never lost our confidence."
The Crimson, after a shaky start, is now 3-1 in its last four games, with the only loss coming at the hands of second-ranked Connecticut.
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