The cream usually rises to the top. But this Ivy League field hockey season has been a little unusual. It is already more than halfway through the season and no strong leader has emerged from the muddled pack.
This weekend will be a telling one in the chase for the Ivy league field hockey crown. Harvard and Princeton square off this morning at 11:00 on Cumnock Field, while Brown travels to Pennsylvania and Dartmouth hosts Cornell.
The Big Red, a mediocre 5-7 overall, currently leads the Ivy League with a 3-1 record, having barely eeked out victories over Yale and Pennslyvania. Although it is still without an Ivy win, the Big Green will challenge Cornell.
Brown (7-2-2 overall; 2-0-2 Ivy) is second in the standings but has fallen into a mid-season rut, going 1-2-1 in its last four games. Penn, on the other hand, is riding high after last week's victory against Princeton. The Quakers' red hot goalie Suzi Pures made 17 saves in the 1-0 win.
The highly regarded Crimson (8-2-1 overall; 2-1-1 Ivy) finds itself tied for third place with Princeton. Though its Ivy fate is dependent on Brown and Cornell, Harvard can hardly sit back and watch the score-boards as the Tigers are quite a formidible foe at 7-2-3 overall.
Princeton features a speedy and relentless attack led by forwards Kim Simmons and Jen Babik though it has been snake-bitten by hot goalies and unlucky bounces of late. Harvard goaltender Lisa Yadao will have her hands full holding them at bay.
Princeton's big story is its defense, led by netminder Melanie Orpen, who boasts a league-leading 0.47 goals-against-average. She had amassed seven straight shutouts before the Quakers got the best of her last weekend.
"They have an excellent goalie and a high-scoring, physical style," said Harvard coach Sue Caples, "We'll have to, again, work on execution and finish our plays."
Harvard will need big games from forwards Loren Ambinder, Rachael Burke, and Sarah Downing. As of last week, Ambinder led all Ivy league scorers with 4 goals and 5 assists. Senior mid-fielder Kristen Fowler has come up big in Ivy games with four goals.
Harvard's strength is its ability to push the ball upfield from both sides. Clark, Fowler and Gaffney have proven very adept in transitions this year. Once Harvard pushes the ball into the Tiger end they will have to match Princeton's aggressiveness and force corners, its best offensive weapon.
"Princeton is a tough grass team," said back Francie Walton, "We'll need good ball possession and avoid getting caught up in Princeton's style.
If everything goes as planned, Harvard will defeat the Tigers and rise to its proper position among the leaders of the Ivy League. But as the cliche goes, "anything can happen." Today's field hockey game promises a thriller, highlighting the plethora of contests this Ivy League weekend.