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There wasn't going to be any last-minute letdown for the Harvard women's soccer team on November 4, 1995.
Exactly 364 days after Harvard's tragic 3-3 tie against Brown, the Crimson had a chance for revenge. And what a sweet feeling it was for the squad, as it handed Brown a 1-0 defeat down in Providence, R.I., to capture its first Ivy League title since 1981.
The extra motivation for reaching that moment was the Brown game in 1994. The Crimson, which needed a win to claim the league crown, held a 3-1 in the second half only to see the Bears storm back to tie the game with under 10 minutes left and win the Ancient Eight crown outright.
Ever since then, the only thing on the Harvard players' minds was to get back to a title game and make sure that history didn't repeat itself.
And that Harvard did, cruising through the first six games of Ivy League season, the exception being a scoreless tie at Cornell on September 30.
Then came the Brown contest. Co-captain Sara Noonan put the Crimson ahead 21:02 into the game, as she took sophomore Emily Stauffer's pass off a direct kick and scooted the ball past through the Bear defense into the mesh.
As the second-half clock ticked down, Harvard's defense only got stronger and stronger. History wasn't going to repeat itself, and the title was the Crimson's.
"We were playing for something, and when you're playing for something, it's a lot easier to get yourself motivated," Harvard coach Tim Wheaton said. "We worked all season for those last 45 minutes."
It was a stellar campaign for the Crimson (14-2-1, 6-0-1 Ivy). The offense was astounding, scoring 62 goals in 17 games.
But the defense was even better, as the team allowed only 12 tallies against while pitching nine shutouts. In fact, Harvard blanked the opposition for the first four-and-a-half games before Columbia broke the spell in the Crimson's 4-1 victory in the Ivy opener on September 22.
In addition, Harvard not only won the Ivy League trophy, but its players also cleaned up in the awards department. Stauffer, a first-team All American, won Player of the Year honors for her 13-goal, nine-assist season.
Freshman forward Naomi Miller--the Ancient Eight's second-leading scorer--was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, while defenders Noonan and freshman Jaime Chu also landed First-Team All Ivy honors.
"Our freshman class was just outstanding and made their impact from the beginning," Stauffer said. "The other players were also one year more experienced."
Sophomore forward Keren Gudeman and freshman goalie Jen Burney earned Second Team All-Ivy honors, while All-Ivy Honorable Mention citations went out to co-captain Susie DeLellis and juniors Meg Kassakian and Dana Tenser. In all, nine Harvard players took home some Ivy hardware.
"Having nine of 11 starters recognized is just great," Harvard coach Tim Wheaton said. "[The voters] recognized that what we did was a team effort."
While there were many highlights in a season as successful as the Crimson's, it was the Princeton and Brown games that will forever stand out in the minds of the three graduating seniors--Noonan, DeLellis and Reena Lawande.
The Brown game was exceptional for obvious reasons, but the Princeton contest was symbolic of the character and progress that the team had made the past four seasons.
Sure, Stauffer was her unusual self, scoring only three goals and assisting on two others. But it was the seniors who stole the show on Seniors' Day, the Crimson's final home game of the season.
Noonan was a dominant force on defense as always, while DeLellis and Lawande each scored a goal in Harvard's 7-0 whitewashing of Princeton.
"I'll remember it forever--it was a great game to go out on," Noonan said.
"It means so much to me to have come four years and to be able to score in my last home game," Lawande said.
Those three seniors stuck with a program that struggled their first two years. In 1992, the team was only 5-8-2 (2-4-1 Ivy), while it improved to 6-7-2 (3-4-0) the following season. Then came the 1994 campaign in which the team was oh-so-close to winning it all, finishing with a 9-4-3 (5-0-2) mark and making the NCAA Tournament.
And this year, the team took that extra step in capturing the title.
The only downside in 1995 was the snub from the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Harvard's non-conference schedule contained more guts than the average senior enrolls in, and the Ivy League competition wasn't as strong as it was a year ago. The team's 3-0 loss to a highly-ranked UConn squad the week before selection sealed its postseason fate.
Such a thing won't happen again, however, since the Ivy League champion has been granted an automatic invitation to the newly-expanded tournament.
And chances are that Harvard will be cashing in on the bid in the fall of 1996. The team is experienced, with a slew of talented returning players who can fill the spots of the graduating seniors.
"I get really excited when I think of how young we are," Chu said. "I just think that we're going to be a team that will be a force in the future."
"Our team, individually and off the field, are just an amazing group of girls," DeLellis said. "We definitely played every game knowing that we left everything on the field."
The results proved it.
Harvard Sports Stats 1995-96
Record: 14-2-1, 6-0-1 Ivy
Ivy Finish: First
Head Coach: Tim Wheaton
Captains: Susie DeLellis '96, Sara Noonan '96
Other Key Players: Emily Stauffer '98, Naomi Miller '99, Jaime Chu '99, Keren Gudeman '98
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