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The women's soccer team returns to the friendly confines of the Ivy League today, with a matchup at Princeton.
Harvard (11-1-0, 4-0-0 Ivy), fresh off its first loss of the season, Wednesday's tightly contested 2-1 defeat at the hands of the 4th-ranked UConn (16-1-0), squares off against a struggling Princeton squad (4-6-1. 1-2-1 Ivy), winners of just one of their last six contests. The numbers hint at a Harvard walkover, but the Crimson is taking this game seriously.
"This is an Ivy League game, so it's a big game," co-captain Rachel Chernikoff said. "We're looking to get the automatic bid, and of course, there's the Ivy rivalry."
Undefeated in Ivy play and tied atop the standings with Dartmouth, Harvard's three remaining in-league games have major post-season implications. The Ivy League champion, for the first time this year, secures an a bid to the NCAA tournament. In an disputed decision, Harvard missed an at-large bid last year.
After Wednesday's loss, Harvard was left with mixed feelings. "We're disappointed, but we feel we made a positive step. We really competed, especially in the second half," junior midfielder Emily Stauffer said. After allowing two quick goals in the opening 10 minutes against UConn, Harvard put the clamps on, shutting down the UConn offense and narrowly missing an equalizer in the final minutes. "We want to continue the momentum we created in that second half," Stauffer said.
A rainout last weekend at Bucknell has left Princeton inactive since a 1-0 loss at Delaware on October 15.
Talent-wise, the matchups favor Harvard, and the team seems focussed on allowing that advantage to carry the day. By blocking out records and the Ivy rivalry emotions surrounding the contest, the Crimson hopes to play a simple, aggressive brand of soccer, exploiting the Tigers' defense, second-worst in Ivy goals allowed.
"We want to control the style of this game," Stauffer said. "We want to play with the same intensity as we did against UConn. We don't want to be passive."
The Crimson will look to its midfielders as it did late and with success against the Huskies. With junior Stauffer among the nation's best, Harvard can use its middies to maintain possession and direct the attack. Superior ball-handling skills kept Harvard competitive on Wednesday and should do the same today.
"We'll use Emily [Stauffer], Naomi [Miller] and our other midfielders to control the ball, working it ahead to our forwards when we see scoring chances and keeping it in the backfield when nothing's happening," Chernikoff said.
With the head-to-head matchups breaking Harvard's way, today's contest will turn on Harvard's ability to stick to the game plan that has carried it to an Ivy-best 11-1-0 mark.
As the regular season draws to a close, an Ivy championship and post-season action are obviously on the player's minds. With the Ivy League a two-team race, Harvard needs a in-league win today to keep pace with co-leader Dartmouth, winners of two straight, including a 2-0 victory over 11th-ranked Massachusetts. Harvard and Dartmouth meet November 2 at Ohiri field in a match which may determine the Ivy championship and the NCAA bid.
"We're treating the Princeton game as an important Ivy game, and we're looking ahead to the tournament," Stauffer said.
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