When people think of last year's Harvard women's soccer team, they often look back to the Brown game as the low point. The Crimson led 3-1, but the Bears tied the contest with seven minutes to go and thus won the Ivy League title by one point.
However, the real difference between Harvard's taking the crown and suffering the pain it did was not its 3-3 draw with Brown, but rather the squad's 2-2 season-opening tie against lowly Columbia, a team that had never beaten or tied the Crimson to that point.
"It was very frustrating," sophomore and current Ivy League Player of the Week Keren Gudeman said. "We all cringe when we talk about it."
Today, No. 23 Harvard (4-0) will try to throw a little bit of payback at Columbia (2-2), as the two teams kick off their Ivy League Campaign in a 3 p.m. match-up at Ohiri Field.
The game marks the first of two for both teams in the Harvard Invitational tournament. On Sunday, Harvard faces Monmouth, which holds the nation's longest current winning streak at 11 for Division I schools, and Columbia plays Boston College, while Monmouth and B.C. face each other tomorrow.
Harvard dominated the statistics in last year's contest, all except for the final score. The Crimson blasted over 40 shots at the Lions' net compared to about a half-dozen Columbia scoring opportunities. However, Harvard didn't finish their plays, while Columbia converted on two breakaways.
So far this season, Harvard has slaughtered its rather weak competition. The team has outscored its opponents by a 18-0 count. Sophomore Emily Stauffer leads the Crimson with three goals and four assists (10 points), while freshman Naomi Miller leads the team with four goals.
On the other end of the field, Harvard has been as stingy as possible. The biggest challenge freshman goalkeepers Jennifer Burney--the Ivy League Rookie of the Week--and Merideth Bagley seem to have is staying awake. Life can get lonely back there. The ball hardly ever crosses the midfield stripe with an opposing player controlling it.
A similarly poor team to the first four Harvard has faced, Columbia doesn't look like it should give the Crimson much trouble. Harvard knows that, but it can't afford to let down. All one has to do is remind the players about last year.
"We can't take this game for granted," Gudeman said. "It is a huge game especially since it's any Ivy League game."
Columbia poses little offensive firepower--it has scored a mere five goals in four games against powerless-houses Marist, Iona, Manhattan and Bucknell. Junior midfielder Trisha Cunnane leads the Lions with two goals.
However, the Lions tend to play a defensive-oriented game, sacrificing their offense in order to cut down the scoring opportunities against. An early goal, therefore, is a key for the Crimson. It cannot afford to stay tied late in the game and then risk a game-losing counterattack.
"We expect to control the ball more than Columbia," Gudeman said. "We just have to take good shots."