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In its home opener on Saturday afternoon, the Harvard women’s lacrosse team fell just shy of doing something it had not done in over 10 years: defeat Penn.
The Crimson (1-2, 1-1 Ivy) was unable to hold off the Quakers’ second-half surge, as No. 4 Penn (4-0, 1-0) came back from a three-goal half-time deficit and scored in the last 17 seconds to secure a 9-8 victory at Soldiers Field.
“Penn is ranked number four in the country for a reason,” sophomore attacker Jennifer VanderMeulen said. “They are a very smart team, handle the ball well, and picked up and capitalized on the small mistakes that we made.”
Harvard started off strong, preventing the Quakers from entering its territory and building up an early 3-0 lead, with two goals netted by sophomore Micaela Cyr and another by VanderMeulen.
After 10 minutes, Penn finally got on the board, putting away a free position shot. The Crimson’s VanderMeulen and sophomore Danielle Tetreault quickly responded, each adding another goal to put Harvard up, 5-1. With the squads going back in forth in the final 10 minutes of the period, the Crimson entered the half with a 6-3 lead.
“We’ve been focusing on not turning the ball over and being really patient,” said senior tri-captain defender Sam McMahon. “In the first half, we did that. We were really patient on the ball on offense and made the defense work to get the ball back.”
“I thought we did really well in the first half,” VanderMeulen added. “We had the ball the majority of the half. In the end, we started to make small mistakes, and that’s when Penn started to get its momentum.”
After trading goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Crimson maintained its three-goal buffer along with its hope of pulling off an upset victory over the four-time Ivy League champions.
Yet Harvard’s advantage suddenly slipped away. In the next six minutes, the Quakers netted three straight goals. Suddenly, it was anybody’s game.
“Penn got on a run, and we all started to drop our heads on offense,” VanderMeulen said. “We started to panic and forced things, and it showed our immaturity a little bit.”
“During that time, we just couldn’t get the ball up the field, case in point,” McMahon said. “What it comes down to are those little mistakes, and we let them get back in.”
With 15 minutes to play and the scoreboard tied at 7-7, the pressure was on.
After eight turnovers, seven shots, and five saves between the two teams, Penn broke the draw with 2:57 left to play. Cyr fouled Quakers senior Giulia Giordano, who netted the free position shot to give Penn its fourth consecutive goal and first lead of the game.
Junior Jess Halpern kept the Crimson’s hope alive by answering a minute later with a free position goal—her second goal of the game—to tie the score.
With the game on the line and the clock winding down, the Quakers won a crucial draw control. Penn senior Bridget Waclawik placed the ball in the back of the cage with 17 seconds on the clock, dashing the Crimson’s hope for an upset and securing Penn’s 30th consecutive Ancient Eight victory.
“Penn adjusted their defense, and we didn’t,” McMahon said. “We need to work on adjusting on the fly, not being antsy, and as a collective group, getting the job done.”
“I think one thing we are really taking away from this game is that we need to be more comfortable with the lead,” VanderMeulen said. “We have no problem gaining a lead and making a stance against the other team. We need to possess the ball, show some maturity, and be confident with ourselves when we have that lead.”
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