The Harvard women's water polo team got its season off to a rousing start this past weekend at the Eastern Water Polo Association Tournament at MIT. Competing in the Northern Division's Northeast Region bracket, the Crimson easily beat all four of its opponents.
Last Friday, Harvard defeated host MIT 17-4. The Crimson came back on Saturday to hand UMass a 20-8 loss, and followed that with a win later that day against Bowdoin, 13-4. Harvard completed its undefeated weekend by smacking Wellesley yesterday, 16-7.
The Crimson, who went 19-8 last year overall (18-6 versus college teams, 5-0 Ivy League), expected to sweep the weekend, but nevertheless showed fine form. UMass was the only varsity team Harvard faced, and that win was the Crimson's biggest.
"The UMass win was definitely the most important," co-captain Christine McElroy said. "They were definitely the toughest team."
McElroy cited team tough defense and team cohesiveness as the keys to the weekend.
"We were working on a lot of defenses," she said. "And our ball-side press was really working well, forcing a lot of steals."
In addition, this is the third year that coach Maureen Travers has been at the helm, lending a certain stability and confidence to the program. Practices have been intense but productive, and team members say that they will pay off.
"People worked so hard in practice," McElroy said. "We have a lot of rookies, and they got to play a lot over the weekend because of the weaker teams we played. Almost everyone scored."
Co-captain Erin Pyka and sophomore Missy Ford were the team's leading scorers. Pyka, who plays the two-meter (or hole) position on offense, and Ford, who usually defends the other team's hole player, both figure to continue their prolific scoring as the season wears on.
Harvard's goal this year is to reach the NCAA Championships, which usually take the two top eastern teams. The Eastern Championships, which will be played April 21 at Harvard, determine the top two teams from the east.
The top four teams from Harvard's Northern Division go to the Eastern Championships. Because of two heart-breaking losses to Maryland and Bucknell, the Crimson only finished fourth at the Easterns last year.
But the Crimson is confident it can better that performance this year, and that confidence was hardly shaken this past weekend.