Thanks to a late-season surge, the Harvard women's lacrosse team has received a bid to this this year's NCAA championships. Harvard (11-2 overall, 6-0 Ivy), ranked sixth in the nation, earned the right to defend the national title it captured last year in Princeton, N.J..
To garner a second crown, Harvard will have to travel a more demanding road than in 1990. The Crimson entered last year's tourney undefeated and ranked first in the nation, and received a first-round bye. This year, however, the team earned the final bid, and must play a first-round game on the road. The Crimson faces a familiar foe--the New Hampshire Wilcats--this Saturday in Durham, N.H.
Earlier in the season, Harvard faced the Wildcats at Ohiri field, dropping a disappointing 8-7 defeat. Despite the somewhat surprising loss, the team had not yet evolved and learned to play as a complete whole. UNH, a veteran squad, was able to capitalize on Harvard's lack of cohesiveness and timid play.
The Wildcats held off a late Crimson attack in the waning moments for an emotional victory.
The next day, the Crimson trounced Rutgers, 15-0. Since that rebound, Harvard has avoided the bitter pangs of defeat; the team has run up an impressive nine-game win streak en route to its fourth straight Ivy title.
Ironically, if the Crimson defeats the Wildcats, it will get a chance to avenge their only other loss this season--a 6-5 overtime decision against Maryland.
The NCAA committee awarded first round byes to top-ranked Virginia and second-ranked Maryland.
Lafayette and Penn State will play this Saturday, and the winner of that contest will play the Cavaliers, who closed out the season 15-1.
The committee only assigns seedings to the top two teams in the tournament.
A Different Team
Harvard Coach Carole Kleinfelder has already vocalized her excitement about facing the Wilcats one more time, believing that her team enters the contest with more experience, more confidence and a more versatile, diversified attack.
The freshman--Sarah Downing, Emily Buxton, Francie Walton--have proved they can play on the college level, while veterans Ceci Clark, Sarah Leary, and Sue Carls, have demonstrated their continued poise and concentration.
Kleinfelder has been particularly impressed with the improvement of her attack. Early on, the team relied solely on sophomore Liz Berkery to tally against opposing goalies. And while Berkery does lead the team in points scored, other players have emerged, displaying their own offensive prowess.
From her attack position, Downing exploded for six goals in the Yale game; her speed makes her a constant threat. Junior Becky Gaffney has recently tallied consecutive hat tricks, and is an important cog in getting the Crimson's transition offense moving.
Midfielder Liz Hansen has also come on strong with multiple--goal performances in the latter part of the season. Opposing defenses can no longer afford to concentrate on just Berkery--Harvard has too many weapons.
It is, then, a much improved Harvard team that travels to UNH on Saturday.
The Crimson has not forgotten the early season defeat, and the team will not be intimidated again by the physical, aggressive Wildcats
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