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Soaring high after downing the Boston College Eagles, 2-1, last Wednesday, the Harvard field hockey team flies into tomorrow's do or die showdown against Princeton with its best shot at the Ivy title in years.
No. 20 Harvard (9-4, 3-1 Ivy) is locked in a three-way tie with Princeton (6-5, 3-1 Ivy) and Cornell for second, one game back of the undefeated Ivy leader, No.14 Brown.
After five time defending champion Princeton fell to Brown two weeks ago, the Ivy League title has been up for grabs.
"To say that this game's big would be an understatement," junior forward Kate Nagle said. "If we want to challenge for the Ivy League title, we're going to have to win this game. There's no doubt that we're going to come out pumped for this one."
Princeton has all but owned the Ivy throughout the 1990s. Compiling a winning streak that spanned six years, the Tigers had amassed 35 consecutive Ivy victories prior to their 2-1 dethroning at the hands of the Bears.
After bowing to the new queen of the Ivy, Brown, Princeton has plummeted, dropping four straight.
Falling to No.8 Duke 3-1, Princeton continued its downward spiral with a humiliating 8-2 rout courtesy of No.2 Maryland, and may have hit rock bottom being shutout by Syracuse 1-0, a team it beat 7-0 last year.
Nevertheless, with the exception of the loss to Maryland, the Tigers have out shot and out played their opponents during the losing streak.
To ensure that the Tigers don't suddenly rediscover their scoring touch, tri-captain Anya Cowan will have to be spectacular in between the posts.
Cowan carries the Ivy's second highest save percentage into tomorrow's game at .825, and has performed exceptionally well when the Crimson has needed her the most.
Her strong second half performances against cross-town rivals B.C. and Northeastern solidified narrow 2-1 come-from-behind victories and showed everyone why Cowan is one of the top money goalies in the league.
However, Cowan is sure to be tested often and early by an aggressive Princeton offense that likes to take a lot of shots. The Tigers have out shot all but one their opponents this season.
Their offense will be lead by junior forward Hilary Matson. Matson's speed up front makes her both a powerful offensive weapon and an amazing decoy.
Alongside Matson will be tri-captain Katie Caroll, who was moved up from the midfield following the loss to Brown to give the Tigers more experience at the forward position.
Caroll was described by her coach earlier this year as a natural finisher with an impeccable touch around the net, and the Tigers will need her scoring knack if they are to capitalize on more of their opportunities.
Sophomore back Hilary Walton and tri-captain Katie Schoolwerth will draw the assignment of shutting down Caroll and her teammates.
It will be their job to ensure that Princeton doesn't jump out to an early lead before Harvard can hit its stride.
"We just haven't been coming out ready to play," Cowan said. "It's been taken us a while to focus, settle down and find our marks, and we can't do that against Princeton and expect to win. We need to be ready from the opening whistle."
Harvard's been guilty of giving up too many early goals recently. The Crimson has allowed its opponents to score first in its last three contests, including a goal just three minutes into the B.C. match.
If Princeton comes out and scores early, it could give it the confidence it needs to unleash a furious offensive storm and bury Harvard's title hopes.
On the other hand, if Harvard can keep Princeton off the scoreboard in the first and head into halftime at least tied, Harvard's offense should be able to hit its stride and bag a goal in the second half to steal a narrow victory.
Harvard's second half charge will be lead by tri-captain Dominique Kalil and Nagle. Kalil leads the team in scoring with seven goals and seven assists for 21 points, while Nagle has seven goals of her own this season.
"We need to take more chances and be less timid in front of the net," junior midfielder Liz Sarles said. "If everyone's more aggressive we can win."
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