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Rookie’s Saves Help Secure Sole Possession of Ivy Title

By Keith H. Bender, Contributing Writer

In the Harvard women’s soccer team’s regular season finale, freshman goalkeeper Bethany Kanten showed why she and her Crimson teammates are a force to be reckoned with as they head into the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Kanten earned her second shutout of the year with two saves in the Crimson’s Ivy League title-clinching victory at Columbia on Saturday, improving her personal record to 9-2-1.

Harvard (12-4-1, 6-0-1 Ivy) took down a driven Columbia (6-10-1, 3-3-1) team, 1-0, thanks in large part to Kanten and the back line’s unyielding defense.

“Columbia had a lot to fight for,” Kanten said. “[Getting the] win was important for our mentality going into the NCAA tournament game.”

Though a tie would have still ensured the Crimson’s outright ownership of the Ivy League title, Kanten was determined to finish the season with a victory.

“Ending on a tie, we still would have won, but it’s not great for how we would have felt going into playing a big-time team next weekend,” she said.

Kanten’s first save came in the 37th minute when the Lions’ senior forward Ashlin Yahr ripped a shot from six yards out.

The Harvard keeper made a diving stop to her right to preserve the shutout.

Not only did Kanten’s save keep the Lions off the board, it also denied Yahr’s bid to tie Columbia’s all-time career goals record of 30.

“We knew she was going to be a big threat,” said Kanten of Yahr and her extra motivation to score that night. “We talked about it before the game, but we played like we would in any other situation.”

In the 52nd minute, the Lions took another shot on goal, and, once again, Kanten came up with the save, brushing off senior midfielder Natalie Melo’s attempt.

Though Columbia tallied 10 shots on the night, Harvard’s defense strengthened in the second half, not allowing another attempt on goal.

“On Saturday night, Bethany was one of our many players who played out of their minds,” freshman midfielder Mai Le said. “They were incredible. … She and our defense were the heroes of the game.”

Freshmen have played a large part in the Crimson’s success all season. It was fitting then that rookie Lauren Urke scored Harvard’s lone goal on an assist from classmate Meg Casscells-Hamby.

“It’s such a big family,” said Kanten of the team’s ability to integrate even the youngest players.

The Crimson may have depended heavily on young players at times this season, but its youth has never posed any problems.

“She plays with a maturity beyond her years,” said Le of Kanten.  “She organizes her defense and changes her style of play to suit each game’s conditions. Her ability to adapt to the game is what makes her such an exceptional goalkeeper.”

Kanten, who was named Ivy League co-Rookie of the Week in October, has been a solid fixture in the net for the Crimson during a season that has seen several goalie changes because of injury.

Junior goalie AJ Millet went down with a concussion early in the season, while sophomore keeper Jessica Wright and freshman goalie Cheta Emba have also been sidelined.

Kanten debuted in Harvard’s season opener at Long Island, finishing with two saves, and notched her first career win against Elon two days later. She opened up Ivy League play with a strong performance against Penn, coming up three stops and earning her first Ivy League Rookie of the Week award.

The freshman keeper kept it up for the rest of Ancient Eight play, finishing with a career-best nine saves against Brown on Oct. 15. Two weeks later in the Crimson’s final home match, Kanten made four stops in a 2-1 win over Dartmouth, outplaying her Big Green counterpart Tatiana Saunders, a goalie on England’s U-19 National Team.

Kanten, a native of Park City, Utah, recorded her 39th and 40th saves of the year on Saturday in her last game of a regular season in which she made 14 appearances.

Though it is in a goalie’s job description to be a leader on the field, Kanten’s teammates say they are impressed with how naturally she takes charge of the defense.

“She has stepped up to the challenge,” Le said. “She is definitely the general on the field.”

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