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A familiar situation. A familiar outcome.
Tied at one with under a minute remaining in the final overtime period, the Harvard women’s soccer team suffered a heartbreaking defeat when Princeton senior forward Emily Behncke beat co-captain goalie Katie Shields with just under 14 seconds remaining.
Last season, the Crimson (7-4-3, 1-2-2 Ivy) fell to the Tigers (5-6-2, 2-2-0) by the same score when Behncke assisted on Esmerelda Negron’s game-winning goal with just 41 seconds left.
“We just reversed the numbers,” quipped Harvard coach Stephanie Erickson in reference to the time remaining on the clock in each game.
After two hotly contested overtime periods where both teams had chances, Princeton won the game when Behncke collected a loose ball in the box. With her back to the goal, she collected herself, then turned and fired a low shot past the diving Shields.
“As soon as I saw her get composed, I knew it was trouble,” Erickson said. “In OT, you think she’s just going to try and turn and shoot, but she took it down. So anytime she’s in the box, she’s going to be dangerous, and to be that close to the goal and get a shot off, there’s no chance. She’s just a special forward.”
“It’s nobody’s fault,” sophomore midfielder Megan Merritt said. “It’s just heart-breaking because we played our guts out.”
For a while, it looked like this game might not get to overtime. When Shields came out of her goal to make a save in the 39th minute, Behncke was there to poke the rebound over the Harvard defenders standing in the goal. The Crimson now faced a deficit—a daunting prospect for a team whose seven wins this season have all been shutout victories.
But this game was different. In the 61st minute, freshman forward Erin Wylie dribbled through several Tiger defenders and found Merritt all alone just inside the box. Her low shot skimmed off the fingertips of the goalie and snuck in just inside the far post for the equalizer.
“Erin went through three or four players, and I just kept running and called for the ball,” Merritt said. “She got it to me and I one-timed it.”
The Crimson was lucky that Merritt was even in the game at that point. While bending over to head the ball in the first half, she was kicked in the face by a Princeton player, sending Merritt to the ground and hushing the crowd. She was replaced by freshman midfielder—and Princeton native—Zoe Sarnak, but returned later in the half sporting a fat lip.
No yellow cards were issued on the play.
“I was going for a header, and her foot went straight into my mouth,” Merritt said. “She deserved [a card].”
Harvard had multiple chances to win the game in regulation as well. Senior back Sara Sedgwick hit the crossbar on a free kick in the first half, and senior midfielder Maile Tavepholjalern also had a ball deflect off the crossbar off a lob later in the game. Wylie led the team with seven shots—half of the team’s total.
“We played well, but I am still not convinced that we were sure we were going to score a goal or come back and win the game,” Erickson said. “I think getting the goal could change our season. We played well in the interim, I’m just not sure we believed it was going to happen. So when it did, we saw a huge change.”
“This game was a turning point in our season,” Merritt said. “Even though we lost, we came back from being down. That’s something that we haven’t been able to do all season, so I’m proud of that. It showed a lot of character and heart.”
Defensively, it was business as usual for Shields, who entered the game with 10 shutouts in the team’s 13 games, helping Harvard sport the second-best shutout percentage in the nation. She made nine saves, including one in the second half where she went completely horizontal in the air, drawing gasps and cheers from those in attendance.
Sedgwick, co-captain Laura Odorczyk, sophomore Michelle Hull, and freshman Nicky Rhodes were solid in front of their keeper. Odorczyk even turned into a goalie of sorts in the first half when she blasted away a loose ball that was poked past Shields and was rolling towards the goal line.
The Crimson players have little time to feel sorry for themselves after the loss to the Tigers. Harvard will host Dartmouth next weekend before closing out the season at Columbia, and the team feels optimistic about its chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if it can win both of those games.
“I think they’re going to feel the pain of the loss initially, but then they’re going to see [that] we did things today that were inspiring and motivating—things we haven’t done,” said Erickson of Saturday’s loss. “I don’t think that [the Harvard players] think they were outplayed. In the big picture, it will be a game that is still a motivating game.”
The Crimson will do battle with the Big Green on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Ohiri Field.
—Staff writer Jonathan P. Hay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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