It's not often that a team remembers a 10-8 loss as one of the season's happiest memories.
But that's how the Harvard women's lacrosse team will think of yesterday's defeat at the hands of Yale. Yes, it was a loss, the Crimson's eighth in its last nine games. However, it was also by far its best game of the season, as Harvard gave No. 13 Yale all it could handle for 60 minutes.
Coming off an 18-3 bombardment at the hands of Loyola on Sunday, Harvard seemed to be a completely different team yesterday at Ohiri Field. The Crimson's passes were crisp, the defense was stingy and the offense was patient.
The results were clear. In the last home contest for the team's five seniors, the game was tied four times (at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and 8-8), Harvard led twice (2-1 and 3-2) and Yale's largest lead was only three goals.
"I thought that they did some things that I hoped they'd be doing earlier in the season," said Harvard coach Carole Kleinfelder. "I think it was a combination of having played Loyola and understanding how hard that team worked to get where they got, and as the season went on, this team has improved."
The telling moment came in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Yale (11-3, 4-2 Ivy) had scored the last four goals of the first half to take a 6-3 lead at the break, but Harvard (4-8, 1-5) stormed back to tie the score at eight with a goal from sophomore Laura Dahmen with 14:02 left.
On the previous Yale attack, co-captain Shana Barghouti (18 saves) stopped a one-timer from Bulldog Heather Bentley and got the ball to freshman Jeanne Ficociello, who started a quick transition.
After running the length of the field, she found Dahmen near the fringes of the scoring arc, who bounced a shot off Yale's Alison Cole (12 saves) and into the net.
"I got the ball on the run and shot it with my left hand," Dahmen said. "I think it hit her stick."
But that would be Harvard's final goal of the day. The Crimson had its chances--in the game's final 14 minutes, Harvard had three extended offensive sets, one of which lasted almost three minutes--but Cole made the big saves.
Meanwhile, Yale's Amanda Cox hit on a free position shot with 11:16 left to give her team the lead for good, and Verena Phipps added an insurance goal with 45 seconds to go.
Still, the Crimson's defense was solid overall. Harvard negated Yale's speed advantage by cutting down on its fast-break opportunities--the glaring exception being when the Bulldogs scored their eighth goal 12 seconds after the Crimson's sixth--and while in its set defense, Harvard was quick to stickcheck any ballcarrier near the goal.
And with the transition defense and offense working well, each of these departments could feed off one another--which also has rarely happened for Harvard this season.
"It was a different team, a different game," said co-captain Daphne Clark. "We were playing lacrosse instead of worrying about the basics, like throwing and catching.... We played as a team. Everyone was working together, and our transition was better than I've ever seen it."
This made this contest close throughout. Bentley scored the first of her four goals less than a minute after the game started, but junior Honor MacNaughton tied it on a free position four minutes later. Harvard and Yale then traded goals for the next 10 minutes, with Dahmen, freshman Ashley Birch and Yale's Amy Terry and Alyssa Chen scoring.
The Elis seemed to settle down after that, tallying three goals in a row to go up 6-3, and the game looked as though it might end up as a rout. But Clark and MacNaughton cut the lead to one in the second half, and after a few more goal trades, Dahmen finally tied it.
Harvard's final game of the season is today at UNH at 4 p.m., while Yale will await word from the ECAC Tournament.