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Two first-half Crimson goals and tough end-to-end defense throughout the game were what it took for the Harvard field hockey team to earn a 2-1 victory over ninth-ranked University of New Hampshire (11-5-2) yesterday afternoon at Cumnock Field.
The win was the Crimson's third, incidently by identical scores, against teams ranked in the top-10 nationally.
It was senior Loren Ambinder's chip over an extended Gina Gioffre just 10 minutes into the contest which put the Crimson (11-2-2 overall, 3-1-2 Ivies) ahead to stay. Ambinder, the team's leading scorer, converted an Amy Belisle pass into her sixth tally of the season.
Just 140 ticks of the clock later, Harvard scored again, courtesy of the now-patented captain combination of Ceci Clark to Kristen Fowler.
"That stop-hit has been our bread-and-butter," Harvard Coach Sue Caples said.
The duo's perfect corner execution, culminating in Fowler's blast into the back of the goal, visibly sapped the Wildcats energy.
"Scoring early fueled us and took away whatever intensity they had," Fowler said.
Harvard's offense, although it failed to score again, maintained control of the ball, working well through the midfield and foward lines.
Seniors Becky Gaffney, Clark and Fowler looked as though they had played together forever, simply feeling each other's presence and continually passing the ball to open space. The triumverate dominated the UNH middies, kept the ball out of their own end, and anchored Harvard's attack.
Banner Day for 'D'
But the real heroine of the day was the defense. Junior Rachel Burke thoroughly disrupted UNH's penalty corner execution, breaking up scores of Wildcat opportunities. Sophomore backs Belisle, Emily Buxton and Francie Walton did an excellent job of marking the dangerous UNH forwards, while senior Tina Lawler grounded the defense and kept everyone in the backfield together.
"Rachel just rushed out really well, and eased the pressure off me," Harvard netminder Lisa Yadao said. "She broke up all their corners."
"Francie did a great job on Rebecca Provost," Caples said. "She distributed the ball very well."
UNH did manage to get on the scoreboard with only a little over three minutes remaining in the contest. Wildcat sophomore Tracy Toupin lifted the ball over Yadao's head off of a penalty corner, increasing the pressure for the final moments of the contest.
"Their goal was perfectly executed," Caples said. "Our team hung very tough in the final minutes when they stepped up the pressure."
UNH Coach Robin Balducci was clearly disappointed with her squad's execution. The Wildcats came to Cumnock Field ranked ninth in the nation and third in the region.
"We knew they were a good team," Balducci said. "We couldn't afford not to execute, which we did, and they hurt us."
Harvard earned its third consecutive berth in the ECAC post-season tournament this coming weekend. The Crimson is the tourney's top-seed and host. Harvard will face fourth-seeded West Chester at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Cumnock Field. Brown (#2) and Princeton (#3) will meet at 2 p.m.
Harvard must win the tournament if it hopes to be given an invitation to the NCAA tournament. Bids will be announced for the National Tournament on Monday, November 11.
"Scoring early fueled us and took away whatever intensity they had." Kristen Fowler
"Our team hung very tough in the final minutes when they stepped up the pressure." Coach Sue Caples
ECAC Tourney Information
4. West Chester
Sat. 11/9 Harvard v. West Chester (11 a.m.)
Sat. 11/9 Brown v. Princeton (2 p.m.)
Sun. 11/10 Championship Game (1 p.m.)
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