On the second floor of the Beren Tennis Center—one of the few warm places across the river on that day—the sun trickled through the glass and onto the faces of seniors Kate Gannon and Shelley Maasdorp. They sat in a room designed for a press conference. Three people joined them: their coach, Sue Caples; my roommate and fellow reporter from The Crimson, Pat Coyne; and me. We were sitting at the front of the room talking about the NCAA Tournament field hockey game that had just ended, steps away at Jordan Field.
The Crimson had lost. The Crimson had lost big, 7-1, to two-time defending national champion Wake Forest, a school surely unaccustomed to the snow which piled along the turf and sidelines. The rollercoaster campaign which had given Harvard the chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament had shut the door, seemingly, just as quickly as it had opened it.
But it wasn’t a surprise, in truth. In the end, it’s what the NCAA had expected when it seeded the field; what fans, reluctantly, knew would probably occur. And here in the upstairs of the Beren Tennis Center, the topic of the post-game interview revolved around the questions most reporters absolutely hate to ask, in any form. As best we could, Pat and I probed—gently—hoping for a few nice, reflective quotes about the definitive end to a very good collegiate season. Really, though, we were hoping for insight into how it felt.
“We built a great team and had a great run at the end,” Caples said. “We battled hard, we exceeded our expectations. Right now, moments after the game, it’s hard to really take it all in. I think this season in general is one that will require a lot of reflection.”
The “it” we wanted, though, was precisely that reflection. A reflection, in particular, which fans of any sport wish they could have even the opportunity to ponder, deep down We wanted to know how Gannon and Maadorp felt at that moment, as the profound realization set in that today would likely be the last day that they would play official, organized athletics in their lives; that this would be the day their passion, the thing which may have defined and dominated them in grade school, high school, and college, would end. There would be spring play, perhaps, but their last real season in the NCAA was done.
And that is why reporters hate to ask such questions. But in the world of amateur athletics, after all, this is true drama. This is how emotions are conveyed, how the athletes and non-athletes bridge the gap. What it required, though, was pain: a reopening of a predestined wound.
Gannon and Maasdorp, impressively, didn’t show it. No tears were explicitly shed. In their place, most people might have cried. At one point, I even thought that I might have if I was in their shoes. Not out of total despair, mind you; far, far from it. Instead, just like graduation, just like the end of one part of your life, this game was the end of a significant chapter in a story.
And surprisingly, on their faces were looks distinguished by a defeat, certainly, but not the last defeat they’d ever have the pleasure of suffering.
“I’m very happy to have played such a good team,” Maasdorp said. “Just to have made the tournament, and then play against such a good team, I’m very happy. The toughest part was that the score was so high, but I wasn’t trying to pay attention to it.”
And to be honest, there turned out to be plenty to be genuinely happy about. There were records forged, reached and almost broken. Maasdorp nearly broke the school record for points in a season, and junior Jen McDavitt became the all-time leader in assists. Gannon, the calm captain, broke the previous record, and stayed just one behind McDavitt’s mark. Harvard became Ivy League champion—breaking a historic, dominant Princeton streak—and made the NCAA Tournament. Even in this game the effort was unflagging and worthwhile.
“I have a lot of pride at the way that we did that,” Gannon said of her teammates’ effort. “There wasn’t a second of that game that we weren’t trying and that we weren’t going for it, and that takes a lot of character.”
But Caples sensed what we wanted. She began to break down the season, presenting a brief review. She noted how each and every game, genuinely, “was different.” How it was a campaign unlike any other, and certainly unlike last year. How, really, they had lost so many good players the year before that it’s quite amazing that they made it as far as they did. And she’s right.
Harvard had graduated last season’s top scorer (Kate McDavitt ’04) and assists leader (Mina Pell ’04), their all-time record-holder for shutouts (Katie Zacarian ’04), and Harvard’s first-ever first-team All-American, the best defensive player in school history (Jen Ahn ’04). And in their collective place stood Gannon and Maasdorp, together with forward Tiffany Egnaczyk, netminder Aliaa Remtilla, and back-up goalie Anne Haig. A group largely undistinguished before this year.
A group that, amazingly, did better than the team before them.
And so such losses again would hurt, Caples told us. Yes, because of points and defense, but also because of leadership. Because she would lose people she cared for in Gannon and Maasdorp and the rest of the seniors, certainly, as well. All of them, Caples must have realized—because she had been through this process so many times before—were people who might stop playing the sport of field hockey altogether as soon as their time at Harvard was through.Yet as the sun kept shining, in a symbolic, oddly cinematic sort of way, it turned out that Caples wasn’t done. She had youth and a core to build on, she declared. New people had been baptized by fire; last year’s freshmen like Julie Lane and Gretchen Fuller improved by leaps and bounds on the offensive end. Juniors Beth and Jane Sackovich were each given All-Ivy recognition. They, even in this awful loss, had all “gained valuable experience” by playing Wake Forest.
When the interview was over and it was time for the trek home, maybe Gannon and Maasdorp did start crying, at least a little bit. Harvard still lost. They and the other seniors were done with their collegiate and probably post-collegiate athletic careers in one fell swoop. Few things, if any, could change that reality. The snow would still be on the ground when they went outside. Life would progress, whether they were athletes or not.
In the end, thanks to them, we got what we wanted. And more.
There in the Beren Center, I hope, in an odd, roundabout sort of way, that they got the same.
-- Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at email@example.com. His column appears on alternate Fridays.