GAME OF THE YEAR: Penalty with Nine Seconds Left Wins Title

The massive crowd was silent for a moment, as incoming co-captain Lizzy Nichols lined up for her penalty kick.

As she put cleat to ball, the crowd began to shout. When the shot ripped the upper nineties, it roared.

When the swarm of students sprinted onto the field, it became pure bedlam, and deservedly so.

Nichols’ penalty-kick goal with nine seconds left in double overtime not only won the game, 2-1, for the Crimson, but more importantly, it secured an Ivy title.

Were it not for that goal, a tie would have resulted, handing Princeton the championship and leaving Harvard on the outside looking in for an NCAA berth.

But all that changed in a split second.

“It’s just a shock,” Crimson coach Ray Leone said after the game. “To end the game like that, it’s just, I just can’t believe it. To end the game like that and to be the champion in the same second that it ends…”

No one would have predicted a miracle finish after the first two overtimes saw the Crimson outshoot Columbia, 9-3, but come away empty-handed.

In the first overtime, a shot from Harvard’s freshman standout Melanie Baskind ricocheted off the bottom of the post, bounced down, and looked to have crossed the plane. But the potential goal was not given.

Luck, it seemed, was not on the Crimson’s side.

With less than a minute left, it was almost a foregone conclusion—Harvard would barely lose out on its Ivy title.

But everyone on the field had hope.

“It was almost unbelievable,” co-captain Nicole Rhodes said. “Even with a minute left, we thought we were going to win.”

With the clock threatening to end the Crimson’s dream run, Baskind was brought down in the box.

A few tense moments later, Nichols held her nerve from the spot, and Harvard was crowned champion.

“After the goal went in, it was just pure excitement,” Rhodes said.

Overall, the Crimson outshot the Lions 25-15, dominating play from the start.

The team tallied its first goal of the game in the 27th minute, after a ball from senior Rachael Lau was tucked away by junior Christina Hagner.

But the Lions were able to even the score five minutes into the second half, sparking the exciting finish that would define the season for the Crimson.

After a stellar year that saw Harvard run through the Ivy competition, this was the game to have.

And the crowd knew it. Shirtless men skirted the sideline, not one person in the stands remained seated during overtime, and the noise was of a magnitude rarely seen at a women’s soccer game.

It’s been 36 years since Title IX, and the frenzied enthusiasm of the fans demonstrated just how far women’s sports have come.

“The crowd meant a lot; it meant a lot for women’s sports in general at Harvard,” Rhodes said. “To have that many people there, it was like a 12th player out there.”

For the seniors, the win represented the culmination of four years of coaching switches, struggles on the field, and constant hard work.

Through it all, they stayed together and were granted the satisfaction of an Ivy title in their final year, in the final game, with only nine seconds to play.

It was a miracle, to say the least, in one of the most memorable games in Harvard soccer history.

“It solidified all the hard work our class has put in during our four years,” Rhodes said. “To finally win one, it gave us something to forever be proud of.”

—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at