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For the past four seasons, the Harvard field hockey team's last games of the year have been more of a resolution than a climax. The Crimson last won an Ivy League title in 1991. Since then the team has exited from the title hunt with great speed.
This year is different. Going into today's 2 p.m. matchup against Brown, the final game of the regular season, Harvard already has secured second place in the Ivy League, but with a win it can virtually assure itself of a berth in the ECAC Tournament.
The ECAC Tournament is a four-team event that pits good East Coast teams that do not make the NCAA Tournament against each other. Harvard (9-7, 4-1 Ivy) will not make the NCAAs--Princeton wrapped up the Ivy League's play-in spot two weeks ago--but the Crimson has a good chance to make the ECACs.
A win over Brown would improve the team's chances for that greatly, since the Bears (8-8, 1-4) are also in the running. In the 10 common opponents between the two teams, Brown went 5-5 and Harvard 7-3, but a Bear victory today would give the two teams the same overall record and possibly the edge.
Other than Brown and Harvard, Colgate and Cornell have also expressed interest in the ECAC Tournament. The final decision of who goes will take place Wednesday night after the NCAA selection.
One thing that the Crimson and the Bears share in common is a great improvement since last year. Harvard defeated Brown 2-0 for its only Ivy League win in 1995, and the Bears went winless in the Ancient Eight.
"[Harvard coach Sue Caples] told us that this is one of best Brown teams in years," junior attacker/midfielder Amy DiMarzio said. "It's also a particularly strong second half of the season for them. You have to take them seriously."
If nothing else, Brown is streaky. After losing its first three games, Brown won five out of its next six games, including bombings of Dartmouth (by 3-0) and Providence (4-1). Then, after falling to Princeton and No. 8 Northeastern by a combined 11-0, Brown blanked state rival Rhode Island, 3-0. In its last game, the Bears fell to the Big Red of Cornell in double-overtime, 2-1, last Friday.
Fortunately for Harvard, the game will take place at its home sweet home, Cumnock Field. The Crimson is 5-2 across the river this season, with both losses being close, 2-1 games against Top-10 teams. Plus, Brown's home field is mde of astroturf, and astroturf teams have had trouble with the divot-filled, somewhat-uneven sod of Cumnock this season.
Today will also be the last home game for the Crimson's seniors, as the ECAC Tournament will almost certainly not be at home. Harvard expects to go to the ECACs, however, so the players won't let the pre-game introductions become overtly sappy. To them, the season ain't over.
"I'm sure the seniors will have their usual thing," said DiMarzio, commenting on the usual practice of giving seniors flowers. "It's kind of sad, but we're planning on going on beyond this."
This game could have had even more importance than it does now. If Penn had defeated league-leading Princeton last night, then the Crimson could have tied the Tigers for first place in the league, but Princeton prevailed 5-0. Nevertheless, Harvard wants to be just one game back of the league leader.
"It's just a pride thing, only to have lost to Princeton," senior right back Whitney Smith said. "They deserved to win the Ivy League. We're not embittered at them--well, we're definitely embittered because we wanted to win the Ivy League--but they were the better team that day."
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