The Harvard women’s field hockey team has a tough schedule this weekend as it travels to the west coast to face No. 17 Stanford today in Palo Alto, Calif., and California on Sunday in Berkley, Calif.
The Crimson (3-7, 1-2 Ivy) looks to rebound from back-to-back losses last weekend against Brown and Bucknell, but the nationally ranked Cardinal (7-3, 3-1 NorPac) and the conference-leading Golden Bears (5-6, 4-0 NorPac) will be a formidable test. Both teams have proven that they can compete with the best, as Stanford beat No. 9 Wake Forest in late September and California upset the Cardinal during the same month.
“We are excited to play in California,” sophomore forward Emma Keller said. “We are definitely looking forward to putting a couple of new points in our game. We had a couple of losses lately, and after analyzing the game, we’ve come up with some things to work on before traveling [out west].”
The road trip will be a true test for the Harvard defense as it tries to slow down two high-octane offenses, which average 2.9 and 2.5 goals per game, for Stanford and the Golden Bears respectively. Sophomore goalie Cynthia Tassopoulos, who has racked up 59 saves throughout the season with a .747 save percentage, will be the Crimson’s last line of defense. She will need to stop the likes of Cardinal junior Stephanie Byrne, who leads her team with 5 goals and 11 points, and California sophomore Claire Dougherty, who boasts a team-high 7 goals and 15 points.
“Our defense is definitely one of our strongest points,” sophomore back Kim Goh said. “I think our greatest asset is our composure. That’s really the best you can do against teams with skilled forwards and quick players—to not get caught watching, to hold and be patient until you are ready to take advantage of the situation.”
Stanford comes into the match riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak, having defeated UC Davis, 2-1, in overtime last weekend. The Cardinal likes to turn it on in the second half, as it has outshoot, 72-38, and outscored its opponents, 11-5, while racking up 76 penalty corners in the second period so far this season. Byrne is established as the go-to player late in the game, tallying four game-winners, the last of which came against the Aggies last Saturday. The trio of Byne, sophomore Becky Dru, and senior Xanthe Travlos have combined for more than half of Stanford’s shots.
Harvard will have to match the intensity of the Cardinal, especially on offense. Stanford has limited its opponents to just 7.6 shots and 1.4 goals per game. Given that the Crimson has failed to score in three of its last four losses, Harvard will need to make every opportunity count.
“We are definitely looking to make some attacking changes,” Goh said. “As a team, we are just working on getting an attacking mindset—the idea that when we get the ball we have to throw everything we have [to get] the goal.”
“We are working on our offensive third,” Keller said. “When we penetrate the circle, we are putting a huge emphasis on holding the ball in our offensive circle, getting a penalty corner, getting a shot on net, really getting a solid return on our penetration.”
The Crimson’s opponent on Sunday, California, has won three of its last five but is looking to rebound from tough losses to the No. 9 Demon Deacons and No. 2 North Carolina. The Golden Bears rank fourth in the nation in defensive saves with 6, and 15th in assists per game with 2.5.
Although California has earned 75 penalty corners so far this season, it has given up 78. If Harvard is given an opportunity to score, it will have a chance to beat either junior Maddie Hand or sophomore Haleh Nourani in goal. The Golden Bears’ duo, which has a combined 67 saves, will face challenges from Chloe Keating, who leads the Crimson with 14 points on five goals and four assists, and junior captain Carly Dickson, who has tallied four assists on the season as well.
—Staff writer James Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.