For the Harvard women's lacrosse team, spring break is anything but.
The birds will be chirping and the trees will sprout more buds, but a week off from school-work will not mean a week of rest and relaxation. Instead, the Crimson (2-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) will bus down to Princeton tomorrow to take on the defending NCAA champions and top team in the nation.
This ain't no Caribbean cruise.
"We're going to have to be quick and aggressive," junior attacker Maria Hennessey (three goals, six ground balls) said. "We're just as skilled as they are, so it's going to come down to who gets the ground balls and who plays aggressively."
The Tigers are doing just about as well as everyone expected them to. They have won both of their games this season, a 15-6 victory over No.11 James Madison and a 5-4 squeaker over No. 3 Virginia in a rematch of last season's NCAA semifinal. In both games against the Cavaliers, Tiger midfielder Lisa Rebane scored the game-winning goal.
Other Princeton players to watch out for include defender Carter Marsh, who effectively shut down James Madison's Danyle Heffernan--a third-team All-American last year--and Virginia's Anna Yates--a second-team All-American--at one goal each. Whichever Harvard player she draws will have to work hard to shake her off.
Tiger goaltender Erin O'Neill is another standout. The league leader in save percentage last year (64.4 percent), O'Neill is a netminder that will gladly take risks, running out of the crease to pick up loose balls. On the other end of the field, Harvard has won both its games this year by huge margins--a 12-2 thrashing of B.C. and a 19-4 nuking of Penn. The offensive show was well-appreciated, but it doesn't clear up all of Harvard worries.
The problem is that in women's lacrosse, there's a pretty clear definition between good teams and not-so-good teams. James Madison and Virginia are very good; B.C. and Penn are decent.
So the Crimson won't really know how to handle a high-caliber team until tomorrow, a fact that is rather unsettling for the squad.
"It's definitely a disadvantage," sophomore Chris Shortsleeve said. "Our defense was not tested very hard in the B.C. or the Penn game."
Nevertheless, Harvard has no doubts about its ability to play with Princeton. The Crimson has been one of the most consistently good teams in the nation over the past decade--making the NCAA Tournament the past seven years--but it hasn't won a championship since 1990, and it failed to reach the Final Four last year.
In other words, the Crimson is getting a bit tired of being a bridesmaid in women's lacrosse, if that leap of metaphorical faith holds.
"Seeing that we lost to [Princeton] last year and the year before," Hennessey said, "we know that this is going to be a good game."
So all that Harvard could do this week was practice as hard as it could and hope that it plays its best. In a game such as this, that's what differentiates winning and losing.
"We've been running a lot, working on the transition game and working on the defense," Shortsleeve said. "We're ready to come out and take it to 'em."