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The sun poured down onto Ohiri Field last Sunday afternoon. But from the women's lacrosse team, there were no complaints.
Sunday was a recovery day for Harvard (5-2 overall, 2-0 Ivy), recovery from the bitter disappointment of an 8-7 loss to UNH the day before. Coming into the season sporting a perfect record and the national title, expectations were high. The new team was much younger and the leaders of the championship squad were gone, but there were still those fond memories.
The loss to UNH--the team's second defeat of the season--was its first authentic really check. All dreamers were awoken; this season is not turning out to be an easy one. Harvard has fallen to 10th-place in the national polls behind three other Ivy League teams: Yale (sixth), Princeton (eighth) and Brown (ninth).
"We should have won that game. We played hard," Coach Carole Kleinfelder said.
And smartness is something that can be learned, especially for a young team, she stressed. It comes with time--playing time under pressure against tough competition.
That "tough" competition arrives tomorrow, with the Yale Elis (1-0 Ivy, 4-1 Overall) paying an afternoon visit to Ohiri Field. Eva Vishio, last season's Ivy League Rookie of the Year, again leads the Elis in scoring with 11 goals and six assists. With nine goals and three assists, Sarah Williams has also been making her mark in the score book this season.
And for all her dreams, Kleinfelder has set only one goal for the team: the Ivy League title. At this point, the biggest threat to Harvard's return atop the Ivy League is Yale, which beat UNH, 8-7, in late March.
After the Harvard offense was completely stiffled by the Wildcats stranglehold defense on the weekend, handling Yale seems quite a daunting feat. But Kleinfelder felt her troops should have won the Saturday contest, and she remains confident in her youth corps.
All of which is understandable considering the confidence of sophomore Tara Uhler guarding the zone and the daring offensive style of the Ivy League-leader Liz Berkery. These two young faces have already earned veteran status.
And for the seven freshmen sporting the varsity uniforms this spring, the examples set by Berkery and Uhler--that maturity comes with action--must be reassuring.
Thus far, the new recruits have done remarkably well. Disproving any early doubts, Francie Walton has stepped into the offensive play with grace, nailing three goals in her first two league games. While Walton does not yet have the presence of a Hansen or a Gaffney, her willingness to break to the front of the net has been rewarded.
In the pressure of the UNH match, Emily Buxton gained the experience that can come only through mistakes. Controlling the ball in the UNH zone late in the game with Harvard down by only two, Buxton made a poor decision, charging the net while pressured by three swarming defenders. One accurate check later, UNH had recovered possession.
And minutes later, with the Crimson again in control, a pressured Buxton pass was picked off in the offensive zone. But Kleinfelder wisely notes the talent of her young midfielder and expects the lessons of past errors to be taken to heart.
The most pleasant surprise of the Sunday match was provided by Joey Alissi, who joined the team late because of her hockey commitment. After a disheartening second half on Saturday, Alissi replaced a smoking Tenley Stephenson for most of the Rutgers game and fended off several dangerous checks to drill home two tallies.
As Kleinfelder has stated herself, tomorrow's confrontation with Yale is "a crucial game for the team." The freshmen will run the warmups, but most of them will then quietly take their place on the bench, waiting for Coach's call.
Yet the ultimate success of the team, the dreams of post-season play and championships, will depend on the "youth factor." The hard lessons and invaluable experience gained by the newcomers last weekend--the missed passes, the poor shots and the game pressure--will doubtless pay dividends in the battles ahead.
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