UMass Can't Derail Harvard Soccer Express


It's become so commonplace throughout the years that it's almost routine--the Harvard women's soccer team has won yet another important game. By virtue of a 2-0 shutout of UMass in the first round of the NCAA tournament yesterday, the Crimson have vaulted themselves one step closer to the National Championship and extended their current winning streak to seven games.

Harvard's victory was not just a victory for this year's team, however, but a victory for a program that has been the pride of Harvard athletics for many years. Put simply, the Crimson's win means that the Harvard women's soccer dynasty is still intact and in no immediate danger of falling apart.

It cannot be overstated how important building and maintaining a dynasty is in all levels of athletics. In pro sports, a dynasty can be an enormous source of pride and identity for a town or city. Look at the Green Bay Packers--they've transformed a little neck-in-the-woods town into one of the most well-known towns in America by virtue of their football dynasty. In collegiate sports, a dynasty is just as important. Having a team that year in and year out consistently wins games, division titles or even championships is an enormous boost for a school's popularity, its success in attracting applicants, and its reputation as a whole.

One of the reasons Harvard women's soccer is a joy to watch is because you can, for the most part, count on them every year. Football was 4-6 last year and is now at least tied for the Ivy title--go figure. Lacrosse is up and down like a yo-yo and following hockey is like riding the world's highest roller coaster each year. While other teams seem to be constantly 'building', the women's soccer team has only to ensure that the masterpiece they've created can stand the test of time.

The question that begs to be asked is just how Harvard Coach Tim Wheaton and his athletes maintain their domination of Ivy League soccer. Obviously, an important factor is the coaching. (Patriots fans have only to consider two words--Bill Parcells--to understand this.) Somehow Wheaton is able to take a bunch of new an old faces every year and build teams that not only wins games but have great chemistry as well. Wheaton's teams always seem to have an identity and confidence, especially late in the season, that are the trademarks of a winning program.

"All around Tim does a really good job of recruiting people who can really mesh well together both on an off the field," junior midfielder Devon Bingham said. "We have a competitive nature on the team that's not taken off the field."


Just as important, Wheaton's players always seem to exude enthusiasm and an insatiable desire to win. That attitude is what is at the heart of the women's soccer dynasty. In addition, Wheaton's players feel the added pressure every season to play a level of soccer that is now expected of Harvard's program and that translates into a better team.

"Knowing that we start [each season] at this high-level because we've already won the [Ivy] Championship last year--starting at that level you have higher and higher goals," Bingham said.

You can't win soccer games on sheer will alone, however. Soccer is a complicated mix of raw talent and strategy and if you don't have skilled players--especially in Division I soccer--you will get beaten hands down. Wheaton knows how to identify talent and use it to win games. Take freshman Erin Aeschliman who was a walk-on (but did attend Wheaton's summer soccer camp). Who could know that she would score both of the Crimson's two goals against UMass yesterday?

"[Aeschliman] does a great job--she's a great kid," Wheaton said. "It's kind of the Harvard story. That's what this place is about--kids can come here, they're given the opportunity to play and if they're good enough, they play."

Wheaton certainly does an impressive job in drawing some of the country's top soccer players every year to Harvard, but his job is made 100 times easier because he has only to sell a program that is respected throughout the soccer world.

"Good kids draw good kids," Wheaton said. "Not only soccer players but great people--people other kids want to play with. The University is a big part of that as well."

This year's women's soccer team has all the characteristics of Harvard's winning teams of the past. What makes its defeat of UMass even more impressive is the fact that they did it without one of their best players, All-American Emily Stauffer, who is taking a year off. The Crimson struggled at the beginning of the season with a couple of blowout losses to good teams and even lost an overtime heartbreaker to Yale, a team that always seems to give the Crimson trouble.

"Towards the end of the season we had a couple of reality checks, especially with Yale," said sophomore goalie Anne Browning. "Our number one goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Ivy League championship--after that every single situation we were in was pretty much do-or-die."

But the Crimson's early woes are what makes Harvard's 2-0 gem yesterday, its current seven game winning streak and its stubborn pursuit of the National title all the more glorious.

"I think what's really happening now is that they believe in themselves..." said Wheaton of his players. "I'm so proud of them--they showed so much heart and so much character this year--they've been amazing."

"We're all very technically skilled--every team in the Ivy League is getting better each year," Browning said. "I think an edge we have is that we are part of the dynasty."

Harvard has a sport it can legitimately take pride in on a national level. The dynasty is still alive.

HARVARD, 2-0 at Ohiri FieldUMass  0  0  --  0Harvard  2  0  --