When members of the Harvard women’s soccer team think of this year’s NCAA tournament, their thoughts don’t go straight to March Madness. Instead, they’re focused on this weekend’s cross-river rivalry game against Boston University.
On Saturday afternoon the Crimson (12-4-1, 6-0-1 Ivy) will face the Terriers (18-2-1, 8-0-0 American East) at Nickerson Field in the opening game of this year’s race to the national championship. While Harvard begins NCAA play with the Ivy League crown, BU comes into the tournament ranked 12th in the nation.
The Crimson—which enters into Saturday on a five-game winning streak and a ten-game unbeaten streak—suffered a loss earlier this year at the hands of the Terriers. This loss turned out to be the only one of the season in which Harvard was outscored by more than one goal.
“It was a long time ago,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “The good thing is that we’ve been there before and have already played on their field. That’s really the only thing that you can take from that game. We just have to focus on our game and not really on the other team.”
Freshman goalkeeper Bethany Kanten reiterated her coach’s thoughts, concentrating on the benefits of familiarity with the opposing squad.
“I think it’s good for us because we know this team,” Kanten said. “We know what we are up against on Saturday. I think it would be a lot more nerve-wracking if we were up against a team that we had never played before as opposed to a team that we’ve played, and a field that we’ve played on.”
Whereas BU has played in the NCAA tournament the last seven years straight and has been the American East Champion the last five years, the Crimson has only played in the tournament three times in the last decade.
“We’re definitely going to have to play very, very well,” Leone said. “They have had an unreal season. I think they let up three goals in their conference. It’s quite a challenge, because they’ve earned everything that they’ve got. They’re top 15 in the nation for a reason.”
The Terrier offense has dominated throughout the season, outscoring opponents 51-11 in total, largely thanks to senior forward Jessica Luscinski. This year the forward has netted nine shots and assisted seven, earning a team high 25 points and a nomination for the America East Fan Choice Player of the Year. Luscinski has help from sophomore Kylie Storm, who has put in seven goals along with three assists.
For Harvard, co-captain Melanie Baskind has continued to lead her team with eight goals and assists this season. With those numbers, Baskind is only one goal away from tying Joey Yenne ’03 for sixth place in most career goals scored (28) for the Crimson, and one away from matching Karen Gudeman ’98 as well as Yenne’s record for most career assists recorded (26).
Following Baskind’s strong example, the Crimson’s freshmen have more than stepped up to the plate this season. Freshman Meg Casscells-Hamby leads her class with four goals and six assists, while Kanten has made 40 saves in her rookie career after taking over in goal for injured junior Alexandra Millet and sophomore Jessica Wright.
“They are just as good as everyone else,” sophomore Claudia Haeussler said. “They fit in really well. They’ve stepped up to the challenge, and they’re continually proving themselves as they perform so well in the games.”
Due to the magnitude of the game as well as the offensive presence that BU holds, it will be essential for Harvard that Kanten maintain the consistency that she has shown all season in her first ever NCAA appearance.
“I think just in general this week I have to give it 100 percent every day at practice to prepare for the game on Saturday,” Kanten said. “When the game comes, I’m going to leave it all on the field. I’m going to give it everything I can.”
For the Crimson, continuing what has made the team successful during the current win-streak will be a key component heading into Saturday’s game.
“We’re playing really well together right now,” Kanten said. “We had to get through a lot of adversity this last couple of weeks, being down a goal and coming back to win, so I think we’re prepared for whatever BU throws at us this weekend.”
In what could potentially be the last game of the season for the squad, this Saturday is not just about proving that they can compete against the best. Instead, it is about playing together and winning for its seniors.
“We have really, really grown together,” Kanten said. “As the season progressed, we have started to play for each other ... On Saturday, we’re playing for the seniors because we want to keep playing with them, we don’t want it to be our last game with them.”