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Better than 45 minutes into Friday's game against New Hampshire at Jordan Field, it looked like the Harvard field hockey team, which was trailing 4-1 at the time, would fail its first major test of the young season.
But four unanswered goals, the last coming on a tip-in by junior forward Kate Nagle 5:12 into overtime, gave the Crimson a stunning 5-4 victory over the No. 14 Wildcats. Harvard followed that win by breezing past Columbia's fledgling field hockey program 4-1 on Sunday, giving the Crimson its best start in nine seasons.
Sophomore midfielder Eliza Dick scored twice against UNH, giving her a team-high five goals on the season, while tri-captain Dominique Kalil posted an assist on Friday and two sparkling scores on Sunday to give her a team-best 14 points.
With the weekend sweep, the Crimson (4-0, 1-0 Ivy) is off to its best start since 1990, when it finished 11-5-1 and won its first Ivy League title.
"Being 4-0 is a good confidence boost, but we can't ride on our record," Kalil said. "We're off to a great start, but we've got tough games coming up with Connecticut and Yale."
Harvard 4, Columbia 1
Sunday's game followed suit, as two first-half scores by Kalil helped Harvard stake a 3-1 lead at the intermission and cruise through the second half to bag its Ivy opener.
Both of Kalil's goals came on left-to-right moves around the circle. Nagle keyed the first, with 26:16 remaining in the first half, by sending a long pass down the left sideline for Kalil, who had slipped behind the Columbia defense.
Kalil then rolled right and pushed a shot past Lions keeper Molly Starsia-Lasagna, who had come up to contest the shot, for a 1-0 lead.
Columbia's Nikki Campbell notched the equalizer off a penalty corner with 8:46 remaining, but Nagle and Kalil responded quickly, scoring a pair in the next 5:27.
Nagle redirected a low, hard shot by freshman midfielder Kalen Ingram off a penalty corner with 5:53 remaining, and Kalil outmaneuvered her defender and Starsia-Lasagna two minutes later, chipping a shot into the bottom right corner of the cage while falling into the circle to make it 3-1.
Sophomore back Sarah Luskin closed the scoring with 17:06 remaining in the second half, as her first career goal came after she picked off a clearing pass on the left side of the circle and flipped it into the cage.
"Columbia is so much improved from the last time we played them," Kalil said. "[Harvard Coach Sue Caples] feels teams like this are dangerous because they're scrappy and they play like they have nothing to lose. They did play hard, and being such a young team, we got a little complacent. Their goal should never have been scored. That was a breakdown."
Harvard 5, UNH 4 (OT)
"It came off a restart," Nagle said. "I just tried to get my stick on it to tip it, and it trickled in. It had just enough on it to get past the goalie."
UNH had staked a 4-1halftime lead on the strength of superior first-half execution, as it converted all four of its penalty corners into scores.
Junior back Kelly Stowe boomed two goals past tri-captain Anya Cowan in the cage, and assisted on two others, as the Wildcats threatened to march off Jordan in a romp.
"They have some big hitters and they were able to get some tips," Caples said. "Field hockey is a game of inches and they got some breaks on deflections."
The Crimson played grass-style hockey in the first, over-emphasizing dribbling and two-touch passes in the midfield. In the second, Harvard accentuated the one-touch and opened up the field, taking advantage of its speed and size on the turf.
Junior midfielder Maisa Badawy sparked the Crimson's winning rally with 23:11 remaining in the second half when she one-timed a cross-circle feed from Ingram past UNH keeper Amy Agulay. Badawy accelerated from the top of the circle and put her stick on Ingram's pass for her first goal of the season.
Tri-captain Katie Schoolwerth then converted a penalty corner on a clean, low shot less than one minute later, leading the reeling Wildcats to call a timeout up 4-3.
"Maisa's goal definitely sparked it," Dick said. "When she scored, we knew we could get back into it, then when Katie scored, we knew we were getting this game. We were ready for the next goal."
Dick, who had scored the Crimson's only goal in the first half, finished a spectacular run by Ingram with 6:54 remaining to tie the game at 4-4. Ingram rolled down the right sideline and cut into the circle, where she deked Agulay and fed the ball to the weak side, where Dick collected it and punched it into the open net.
"Kalen juked the goalie and crossed it and I just finished," Dick said. "Weak post is all about position, and I was in the right place at the right time."
Cowan stoned a good UNH chance with about six minutes remaining in regulation, dropping down to block Wildcat forward Jessica Russell's one-on-one shot.
"We were able to regroup at halftime, and that shows heart and character," Caples said. "We talked about just chipping away, getting the first goal, and then when the second came very quickly, that took momentum away. During the overtime, UNH was just standing around."
Harvard dominated the overtime session, playing most of it in UNH territory, before Nagle notched her game-winner and was mobbed by her teammates coming off the bench.
"In the second half, I think we saw how much this team is capable of," Caples said. "We've got some feisty, hungry players, some good goal scorers and our forwards are very hard to mark. This win is tremendous for our confidence. It shows we can come back and refocus ourselves."
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