The Year of Contenders, Not Titles

Twelve Defining Moments in Sports

To paraphrase the immortal words of boxer Jake LaMotta, Harvard athletics in 1991-2 couldah been contendah.

In fact, it was. But unfortunately, that's all it was.

Some Harvard squads came close to championships, only to fall short in the end.

The women's lacrosse team, ranked number one in the nation, lost to Maryland in the NCAA finals and Rensselaer upset the top-seeded men's hockey team in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament quarterfinals.

There were also times when Harvard was far from being a contender.


The men's basketball team endured its worst start in school history (0-11) before stumbling to a 6-20 finish, while the youthful men's lacrosse team managed to win just one Ivy League game.

But other Harvard programs delivered success. The field hockey team garnered its first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament, and the women's soccer team returned to the ECAC tournament for the first time in five years.

The men's and women's squash teams--arguably the best collegiate squash squads ever--won a double national championship this year.

The women's swimming team won its fourth Eastern title in five years, while the men won Easterns on the very last race of the meet.

The men's tennis team advanced to the second round of its NCAA tournament, while the women won the Ivy League for the ninth time in 10 years.

So don't be misled by the high-profile setbacks: As with any year in sports, there were moments of both anguish and glory. Twelve events, more than any others, defined the year in Harvard athletics.

NOVEMBER 9, 1991

30 carries. 323 yards.

Harvard football's Matt Johnson rumbled overBrown breaking the Ivy League rushing record bynearly 50 yards.

The bruising senior fullback also threw for 28yards that day, over half of quarterback MikeGiardi's total. Johnson's effort enabled theCrimson to squeak past the Bears, 35-29.

The previous Ivy League rushing record was 288yards, set last year by Cornell's Scott Oliaroagainst Yale. The characteristically modestJohnson downplayed his achievement.

"I really didn't feel different this week asopposed to any other week," Johnson said after thecontest. "A lot of yardage was there for thetaking."

Johnson, whom Harvard Coach Joe Restic had usedsparingly throughout the season (he was averagingunder five carries per game), racked up 224 of his323 yards in the second half. The longest run ofhis day was a 44-yard romp up the middle,prompting Brown Coach Mickey Kwiatkowski to callJohnson "one of the most powerful backs I haveever seen."

"You go with what's working," johnson said. "Ijust took advantage of what was out there."

NOVEMBER 11, 1991

The Harvard field hockey team's storybookseason reached a storybook finish as the squadreceived its first-ever NCAA bid, one year aftercapturing its first Ivy League title.

"I am thrilled to death," said Harvard CoachSue Caples after the announcement. "We've come along, long way."

The NCAA bid was the icing on a season whichsaw Harvard win the ECAC tournament for the firsttime, successfully defend its Ivy League title andwin the "Boston Four" championship.

The Crimson's 5-0 record down the stretchcouple with victories over regional powers NewHampshire, Connecticut and BU made the bid astrong possibility, but nothing was certain untilthe 12-field team was announced.

Harvard received the fourth bid from NewEngland, behind Boston University Northeastern andMassachusetts.

"Every year we've gotten closer and closer,"Co-Captain Ceci Clark said. "But I don't think weever thought we'd be a top-12 team."

December 11, 1991

The Harvard men's basketball team was 5-0, butit had played Lehigh, Holy Cross, Duke, BU andBoston College--a tough schedule for most teams.

Division III Babson, the weakest opponent onthe Crimson's schedule, seemed like the perfectmedicine: an opportunity for an explosive win thatwould set the tone for the rest of the season.

It set the tone, alright.

The Beavers scored 63 points in the second halfon their way to an unbelievable 100-80 triumphover the Crimson at Briggs Cage.

"It was a perfect game for us," Babson CoachSerge DeBari said afterwards.

Babson's sucker-punch sent the Crimson reeling.

Harvard lost its next five games and seven ofits next eight on the way to a somber 6-20 record.

After the devastating loss, Harvard Coach FrankSullivan was more than a little unhappy. "It was adevastating loss--no ifs, ands or buts about it,"the rookie coach said.

FEBRUARY 2, 1992

The Harvard men's ice hockey team passed amilestone in collegiate hockey when it won its1000th college game, drubbing lowly Union, 7-3.

Harvard is only the second school to reach thatmark. Minnesota was the first.

Coach Ronn Tomassoni couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the drama of the moment.

"That was history, a culmination of the effortsof a lot of great hockey players," Tomassoni saidafter the game. "It's just a terrific milestone.We're very proud of that fact."

Harvard's first win was a 10-1 victory overMIT, way back in January 11, 1990. The 500th winwas at Northeastern's expense on January 4, 1962.

"It's a great victory," Captain Kevin Sneddonsaid following the game. "It represents a win forall of Harvard hockey, past and present.

Junior Matt Mallgrave netted two third-periodgoals to send the Dutchmen packing and seal thevictory

FEBRUARY 5, 1992

Mike Getman ended his stormy five-yer tenure ashead coach of the Harvard men's soccer team whenhe announced his resignation.

Although getman compiled a 42-26-9 record andguide the 1987 team to the Ivy League title andthe semifinals of the NCAA tournament, histalent-laden team played sub-.500 soccer in 1989and 1990.

This year, the team, after losing only onesenior to graduation and entering the season withhigh hopes, finished with a disappointing 7-7-1record.

"I think it was a positive five years," Getmansaid in his announcement.

Members of the team were not surprised by theannouncement, but opinions varied on Getman'sresponsibility for the failures of the team.

"I feel he was a class act," senior Don Daiglesaid.

But many players felt differently, callingGetman "vague" and "uncommunicative."

"The coaching was just awful," another playersaid. "He's just a bad coach."

FEBRUARY 12, 1992

The Harard women's ice hockey team endedNortheastern's eight-year hold on the Beanpot byblanking the Huskies, 3-0.

Following the win, freshman Diana Clarkproclaimed "the beginning of a new tradition.

A slight change in Harvard's forecheckingstrategy and goalie Erin Villiotte's 28 saves--herfourth shutout of the season--assured the stunningupset.

"We sent one player in to forecheck and kepttwo near the blue line," Harvard Assistant CoachPaul Boudreau explained afterwards.

Harvard senior Jen Minkus scored the first goalwith 1:51 left in the first period, slipping thepuck past fallen Huskie goalie Kim Platt.

The rest was gravy. Harvard was mired in asix-game losing streak entering the Beanpot aftera 6-2 start. Fired up by its triumph, the Crimsonput together a season-ending run that nearlycarried it to the ECAC tournament.

FEBRUARY 15, 1992

It was the final round of the men's figureskating competition at the 1992 Winter OlympicGames, and Paul Wylie '91 had to skate theperformance of his life to win a medal.

He did it.

Harvard's own Wylie, whom commentators hadpredicted would fare poorly in the Olympic figureskating competition, skated flawlessly and won thesilver medal.

"This was the performance I'd hoped for, but Ididn't know if it was medal-winning," the formerEliot House resident said upon returning toBoston.

"I didn't believe it until the last skaterfinished, and then I was beside myself. I didn'tthink it would happen to me, so I had stoppeddreaming," he said.

While Wylie was genuinely satisfied with hissilver, many on campus and else where felt that hewas robbed of the gold medal.

The judges awarded the gold to the UnifiedTeam's Viktor Petrenko, the pre-Olympic favorite,even though Petrenko fell once in an uninspiringroutine.

FEBRUARY 20, 1992

Led by the brother-sister tandem of Jeremy andJordanna Fraiberg, the Harvard men's and women'ssquash teams both captured national titles bydefeating archrival Yale.

The Crimson squads overcame a large pro-Bulldogcrowd and sweltering heat to stake their claims tothe number one positions in the nation.

The Elis had beaten the Harvard women earlierin the season, 5-4, with Yale's Sam powerdefeating Harvard's Brooke Bailey in the decidingmatch. this time around, Bailey bounced Power,3-1, to give Harvard the win and the nationaltitle.

On the other side, the Crimson men steamrolledthe Bulldogs, 8-1, on the way to their ninthnational championship in the last decade.

Their only loss had come two years ago againstYale.

"This Crimson team may well be the best I haveyet seen," Yale Coach Dave Talbott said. "All ofthem could be number ones on many other teams."

MARCH 7, 1992

It was an utter shock.

The Harvard men's ice hockey team lost, 4-3 inovertime, to a mediocre Rensselaer squad in thequarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs.

Goalie Allain Roy sat motionless in the net assophomore forward Chris Baird, fellow goalieChuckie Hughes and Coach Ronn Tomassoni crossedthe ice to console him.

Roy, the ECAC's leading goalie, had justfinished making 37 saves against the Engineers--anexemplary performance.

But one save eluded him.

RPI sophomore Jeff Gabriel pushed a looserebound around Roy's right leg at 8:09 into theextra period to give the 10th-seeded Engineers asurprise victory over the top-seeded Crimson.

With the loss, all hopes of an NCAA playoffberth vanished.

"You always think you can stop every shot," adoleful Roy said after the game. "When that shotwent in, it felt like my world ended. These guysare my life."

MARCH 7, 1992

Few thought the Harvard women's basketball teamwould be contending for the Ivy Leaguechampionship come March.

After a woeful 5-11 start, the women appearedto have gone the way of the men's squad.

But there they were on March 7, in a packedBriggs Cage, defying the odds and playingfirst-place Brown for a share of the Ancient Eightcrown.

The Crimson had won eight straight contests toget back into the race, including a dramaticovertime win against Princeton.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Brown defeatedHarvard, 81-70, and walked away with solepossession of the Ivy League title.

Harvard did not go gentle into its good night.It raged and raged, storming back from a 31-25halftime deficit to lead, 41-38, with 14 minutesremaining.

"This [loss] shouldn't detract from theseason," Co-Captain Maura Healey said. "We came onwell despite all the obstacles we faced."

MAY 4, 1992

The Harvard women's tennis team knew it's luckcouldn't last.

Freshman tennis sensation Erika deLone--far andaway the best female tennis player ever to comethrough Harvard--announced in a team meeting herintentions to leave the College and pursue aprofessional tennis career.

DeLone, who was ranked as high as 95th in theworld last year, made her announcement just as theteam was about to select captains for the 1992-93squad.

"I have decided to do this because it has beendifficult to juggle college tennis, professionaltennis and academics," deLone told The Crimson thenext day.

DeLone's 32-4 singles record was instrumentalin Harvard's Ivy championship season.

"She brought a great team spirit to thisgroup," said Coach Gordon Graham. "I'm one of herbiggest fans.

MAY 17, 1992

The Harvard women's lacrosse team was rankedfirst in the nation since the second week of itsseason.

But it will be forever known as second bestafter star attacker Liz Berkery missed a toughpenalty shot and a chance to tie the game with sixseconds remaining in overtime against Maryland inthe NCAA finals.

The Terrapins escaped with the win, 11-10.

While the Crimson might have been moretalented, the Terps were hungrier. Marylandfinished second in the tournament in both 1990 and1991, and refused to be the bridesmaid for thethird year in a row.

Harvard led, 9-6, with seven minutes to play.

But Maryland fought back and scored the tyinggoal with 52 seconds remaining in regulation.

In overtime, Maryland senior Leigh Frendbergflipped the ball past Harvard senior Sarah Learywith 1:15 remaining for the winning tally.

"We never gave up once," said Marylandsophomore Betsy Elder. "We knew we could do it."

1.0Ted G. Rose and Ishani L. Maitracontributed to this article.