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Polowomen Make Nationals

By Mayer Bick

If you want to be the best, you have to start somewhere. Perhaps the most revealing example of that aphorism are John Wooden's 1960 words after losing in the Final Four and, for the 15th time, failing to win the NCAA men's basketball championship at UCLA.

"I have had a lot of success," Wooden said to his old friend Hank Iba who had won two championships in the 1940s at the helm of Oklahoma State), "but I Just don't know if I'll ever win a championship at UCLA." Wooden, who started coaching at UCLA n 1946, would go on to win 10 of 12 championships from 1964 through 1975.

The Harvard women's water polo team had a breakthrough year in 1995. Under the direction of third-year coach Maureen Travers, the Crimson made its second-ever appearance in the eight-team NCAA National Championships. And Harvard best rival Brown, which it had lost to twice before in overtime in the regular season, in thrilling overtime fashion at the Eastern Championships to earn a berth at nationals.

Unlike Wooden, however, Harvard was just thrilled to be there. But very much like Wooden, the Crimson has its eyes set on higher sails in the near future.

"We assume we'll get beat most of the time," Harvard co-captain Erin Pyka said before the nationals. "No matter what happens, we'll learn a lot. It be an incredible experience."

But the Pyka also put a visionary spin on the trip to water polo's Big Dance.

"We're hoping to build on this and be a force in the future," she said.

Pyka was correct--Harvard finished last in the tournament, losing to Maryland in its final game. Maryland, which was the host team, seemed vulnerable to the Crimson, and the Harvard players said going in that their realistic goal was beating Maryland to take seventh place.

Nevertheless, Pyka will probably be proven correct in the near future in her second thought--the Crimson looks like it will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. For the first time, Harvard is recruiting players time, Harvard is recruiting players who played water polo in high school, which only the top collegiate teams do.

And the Crimson has a talented core of returning players, led by first team all-East selections and leading scorer Missy Ford '97 and Ana Dujmovic '96.

Harvard, which finished second in the Eastern Championships to Slipper Rock, was also led this year by Pyka and the other co-captain, Christine McElroy.

The Crimson this year was more a defensive-oriented team, but with more experience it is hoping to be able to turn on the after-burners on the attack as well.

"We [had] a really strong offensive team," Pyka said, "but [at nationals] we needed to increase our offensive moves."

Still, Harvard's achievements this year should not be minimized. After the 13-12 win over Brown at the Eastern Championships, McElroy said she felt like she was "in the middle of a dream."

And in many ways, 1995 was a dream year for Harvard. But it was almost like a dream had in an afternoon nap. The big dream, the dream that Wooden had, might need a little more time than that. However, there are definite signs hinting that Harvard might have its time soon enough in water polo ecstasy because it took the giant first step in 1995--it started somewhere.

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