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Milhollin's Milestone

Brown Knows

By Eric F. Brown

"There--she broke it."

Thus said freshman Laura Stillman, the backup goaltender of the Harvard field hockey team, during Saturday's game against Providence.

Stillman was sitting at the scoring table doing stats at the game, and her comment was in regards to a record-breaking performance by senior Jessica Milhollin, Harvard's starting goaltender.

With about 10 minutes left in the first half, the Friars were looking to break the scoreless tie. Their attackers carried the ball near the goal, but two successive shots were turned away by Milhollin. Those stops made Harvard's co-captain the all-time saves leader in school history.

This for a woman who has barely completed three-quarters of her eligibility. Having played every minute of every game since freshman year, Milhollin has been counted on to lead Harvard to victory.

On some days she is peppered with shots; on others she is bombarded. Sometimes 20, sometimes 25 shots on goal--totals such as these are not uncommon. And since Milhollin is also the Harvard record holder in save percentage in a season (.910 percent, as a sophomore) it is not different to see how her latest record came about.

So, in a sense, the record elucidates a problem with the Harvard field hockey team--it gives up too many shots. Last year, Milhollin broke the Harvard single-season save mark with 202, and the team went 6-9. Those two facts are not unrelated.

"It's not a record I'm [happy about]," Harvard coach Sue Caples said after the game. "We give up too many shots."

When asked about it, Milhollin also commented on the negative connotation.

"It's not a good sign," she said. "It's the beginning of my senior year. The only way we'll be successful is if we deny them shots, and we're not doing that.

"And it's not just the defense--it's me, it's everyone."

But at the same time, don't think that Milhollin was ambivalent to the mark. Before the Providence game, she jokingly complained that she had at least five saves against UConn that the official scorer didn't count, which would have put her over the top. True, lighthearted comments such as these are nothing new to Milhollin--one wonders if her mouth is capable of not smiling--but deep down, she is proud of the record.

And why not? After Saturday's game, she has prevented a member of the opposition from scoring 585 times--585 times she has either shut the door on a team trying to come back or kept a Harvard deficit to a small size. Considering the fact that field hockey is about as low-scoring as soccer, each of those saves becomes enormous.

That is what the record stands for at its most basic level. Jessica Milhollin has prevented more goals than anyone else.

One could try to use it as evidence for arguing Milhollin's place among great Harvard goaltenders of the past or for some other thesis-length hypothesis concerning goaltending styles, grass field vs. astroturf or whatever. But these are all corollaries.

Likewise, the record's correlation to opponent's shot totals fall under the same category--it is a sidenote to the record and not the record itself. And no matter how negative this sidenote is, it cannot hide the fact that saves are good.

So for a moment, forget about all these sidenotes and just think about the record--585 is a whole lotta saves, ain't it?

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