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Entering the season, the Harvard field hockey team loomed as confident as Wyatt Earp with a pair of loaded six-shooters.
Against No. 18 Dartmouth on Saturday, however, the Crimson couldn't pull the trigger, losing to the Big Green in overtime, 1-0.
"Inability to finish remains our problem," said Harvard Coach Sue Caples. "We have to find that little bit extra. It's not as simple as it once was."
The loss kept Harvard (6-10, 2-4 Ivy) mired in a three-game stretch of shutout losses. Over that span, opponents have outscored the Crimson, 8-0.
On the day after Halloween, Harvard couldn't exorcise another hex: its losing streak on the road. After pummeling Rhode Island 4-0 in its season opener, the Crimson has now dropped seven straight road contests.
"It's rubbish--total nonsense," said sophomore Dominique Kalil. "It's all mental. If we had played [Yale and the University of Vermont] at home, we would have beaten them, no question."
Harvard lost contests against these two teams by identical 1-0 scores. These losses, coupled with another 1-0 loss to the University of New Hampshire on Sept. 14, reflected an inability to finish which has punctuated the season.
"Those games will be critical next season," Kalil said. "We need to come up with those wins. They're an incentive for the rest of the season."
Against the Big Green, though, the Crimson stayed close, which was also emblematic of its season.
"I'm not sure we had problems," Caples said. "It was an even game--very tight and competitive."
"We were very equally matched," Kalil said. "Dartmouth was lucky in scoring."
The Big Green snatched the game away with eight minutes remaining in the first period of overtime.
A pass by a Dartmouth forward moved sophomore Anya Cowan laterally to make the save.
The forward, though, pushed the ball past Cowan to a player waiting at the other end of the goal. Sophomore Katie Schoolwerth made a valiant effort to save the shot by diving, but the ball went in the net.
Dartmouth's excited reaction reflected a new feature to the season: opponents that considered Harvard an underdog last year now treat the Crimson with more respect.
"We were definitely more of an underdog last year," Caples said. "Now, teams are aware we have a very talented team. Teams respect us and take us seriously."
Cowan has garnered substantial respect through her performance in net. She has collected four shutouts thus far in the season, matching last year's total.
Against the Big Green, Cowan generated momentum for the Crimson by making a stick save on a penalty stroke and batting it out.
"It was one of the best saves I've ever seen her make," Kalil said. "The girl went to stroke and placed it to Anya's left and in the left-hand top corner, which is an excellent place to put it. Usually, strokes are given goals. Anya is a solid rock in our cage."
Buoyed, Harvard dominated for ten minutes following Cowan's effort.
The overtime period, however, haunted the Crimson.
"We didn't quite get on track in overtime," Caples said. "We were just trying to get possession and made a couple of miscues."
During regulation, Harvard did manufacture scoring opportunities, attacking both sides to counter Dartmouth's up-the-middle strategy.
"We had good combinations," Caples said. "We were moving the ball well from the attacking 15s."
Again, though, inability to execute plagued the Crimson.
"We lacked a spark or something," Kalil said. "We definitely had a few chances; [junior] Judy Collins had some great breakaways. But we never capitalized."
Ironically, the Crimson won last year's contest against Dartmouth, taking a 1-0 overtime decision.
"Last year, we came up with wins," Kalil said. "Something was lacking this year."
However, in the Crimson's shutout streak, the team has played three ranked opponents: Princeton, Northeastern and Dartmouth. Further reflecting this high caliber of opposition, Dartmouth took Princeton to strokes.
"Dartmouth is a great team," Kalil said. "They just wanted it more than we did. It's really disappointing."
Adding to the disappointment, the team had tried to revive its spirits in the locker room before Saturday's game.
"We were saying, 'We're not going to end the season like this,'" Kalil said.
Harvard will have one more chance to redeem itself when it travels to Brown next Saturday.
"We want to end on a big bang," Kalil said. "We have nothing to lose. We're playing for ourselves. We want to take Brown down.
"Brown is a turf team, and we have a lot to prove. It's an away game and a turf game and we need the win. We'll be psyched."
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