Hanover, N.H.--What happened in last night's women's basketball game between Harvard and Dartmouth has happened before, and it will happen again.
It was the classic case of a team with its dignity on the line simply wanting it more than its opponent.
Harvard-Dartmouth is in many ways the women's hoops version of The Game. The Crimson and the Big Green are traveling partners, which means that they play the same teams each weekend, and each marks the beginning and the end of the other's season--literally and figuratively.
It just so happens that, not unlike Princeton and Penn in men's basketball, Harvard and Dartmouth represent the cream of the Ivy League, so their performance against each other can easily make or break a season. From the rafters of Leede Arena in Hanover hang banners representing Dartmouth's 11 women's basketball championships, most of any Ivy League school. For its part Harvard added a third consecutive notch to its championship belt with Friday's 77-62 win over Yale.
The recent history of the ongoing Crimson and Green saga began three years ago. Dartmouth made the trek to Cambridge for what was effectively an NCAA Tournament play-in--The Game's winner would be rewarded with an Ivy title and a trip to the Big Dance. In front of the largest crowd in Ivy League women's history, 2,231 people, Dartmouth thoroughly dismantled its neighbors to the southeast, posting a 72-48 win.
To add insult to injury, the Dartmouth players celebrated their Ivy title by cutting down the Lavietes Pavilion nets.
Not to be outdone, Harvard exacted its revenge the next year. The Crimson clinched the title before the finale, but the players waited until the Game to perform the traditional net-cutting ceremony.
Earlier this season, in the Ivy opener, Dartmouth led for most of the game before Harvard recovered to pull out the nailbiter. While Princeton was the first team to actually fell the mighty Crimson, the Big Green proved to the rest of the league that it was even possible.
So when Harvard jumped out to a 11-2 lead 3:58 into last night's Game, it is safe to say that no one in the building aware of the team's recent history expected the Crimson to gallop away with a blowout win. Giants rarely go down with just one blow.
"As our coach told us in the locker room, Harvard is one of our most vicious but exciting rivalries," Dartmouth senior Bess Tortolani said. "We play them the first and last games of the season, and the last game is always an amazing game for us."
The Big Green stormed back, scoring 17 of The Game's next 21 points to take a 19-15 lead with 9:22 to go in the first half. After Harvard took a 39-34 lead into halftime, Dartmouth stormed out of the locker room to take a 47-42 lead just over three minutes into the half.
The Big Green steadily increased its lead throughout the second half, pushing it into double digits for the first time with 4:45 to go. Dartmouth simply was not going to let big, bad Harvard waltz into Hanover and bring back a Big Green scalp to add to its mantle.
The season is already Harvard's, but last night it was Dartmouth's turn to stand tall at the end of The Game. In the immortal words of Yankees pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter, "The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass every afternoon."
"We were up the first game the whole entire time, but we ended up losing," Tortolani said, "but we were able to hold on to this one, which was really nice for us."
Perhaps the next, best chapter to the Harvard-Dartmouth saga will be next season's finale. Responding to the graduation of Allison Feaster will be not just Harvard's, but the Ivy League's greatest challenge next year.
Whether or not Harvard expects to hold onto its three-year perch atop the Ivy standings next season, the league's also-rans will indubitably view Feaster's departure as an open door, and one that has not been so ajar in at least three seasons.
Dartmouth loses Tortolani to graduation but retains an impressive group of underclassmen, including perhaps the league's most talented corps of young guards in sophomore Courtney Banghart and freshman Sherryta Freeman. When coupled with two current juniors--guard Nicci Rinaldi and forward Erin Rewalt--who have been among the Ancient Eight's premier players over the last three years, the Big Green is set for a run at the title.
With all due respect to Princeton and Penn, the Ancient Eight title seems destined to come down once again to Harvard and Dartmouth on the last day of the season.
The names will be different, but the story will be the same--40 minutes of healthy dislike and pride-filled basketball.
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