Back in September, Harvard women’s water polo welcomed head coach Ted Minnis and assistant Jessi Wood to its program along with five talented freshman contributors, and the team has not been the same since.
These new additions helped the Crimson (17-15, 2-3 CWPA) transform its declining program into a growing threat in the Southern Conference throughout the year.
Harvard ended the season with a sixth-place finish at the CWPA Eastern Championships, the team’s highest finish since 2005 and a signal of the progress the team has been making.
“Our key was that everyone was on the same page the whole season,” Minnis said. “The main thing was that we had a road map of what we wanted to accomplish, and we did [it].”
The Crimson won its most games this year since the 2004-2005 campaign, and the team capped the season two places higher than it did in 2010.
Minnis credits a changed mentality on the team as one of the major contributors to Harvard’s turnaround. As he and many of his players said several times throughout the season, the Crimson worked to force opponents to adjust to its style of play.
“If we tried adjusting every time to what other people were doing, then we would just end up trying to counter to everyone else,” Minnis said. “We knew what we were going to run, and we ran it all the time. Eventually, we got more comfortable in the system and began to add some new layers.”
Minnis made an immediate impact on the team by implementing this strategy as well as several other logistical changes to the lineup when he joined the program.
“What I think is amazing about our team this year in comparison to last year is that not only do we have a new coach who has a system that we’re supposed to be running, but we were able to pick it up so quickly,” junior attacker Monica Zdrojewski said.
Junior co-captain Devan Kennifer led Harvard’s charge this season. She proved to be a force on both sides of the ball by racking up 76 goals on offense and 81 steals on defense, a showing that earned her the team’s MVP award.
“Devan Kennifer had a tremendous year,” Minnis said. “She did a great job leading this year, but Devan will be the first to say that she didn’t do it all by herself. It was definitely a huge team effort.”
Zdrojewski, sophomore attacker Aisha Price, and junior goalie Laurel McCarthy largely aided in this team effort by making significant improvements between seasons. Zdrojewski and Price had nearly identical jumps in statistics between 2010 and 2011: both improved their goal counts by nearly 30 and added an extra 30 assists to their total counts as well.
Meanwhile, McCarthy earned the team’s Most Improved award and solidified her status as a starter by making 184 saves in the season.
As the season progressed, the talented class of freshmen quickly proved to be a valuable new asset to the team. Scoring about 18 percent of the team’s goals, the freshmen added great depth to the team. Shayna Price, winner of the Rookie of the Year award, headed the freshmen squad, finishing in the top five on the team in goals, steals, and assists.
Many of the players on the Crimson’s team credit the spring break trip to California as the turning point of the season. Although Harvard went 2-5 over the week, it played several top-10 team including Cal and San Jose State, both of whom the Crimson came within a few goals of beating. Facing such tough competition helped prepare Harvard for the East Coast teams facing the Crimson in its conference.
“Our record sounds pretty abysmal in California, but I think we played really well there,” Kennifer said. “Even though we had a four-game losing streak, we were playing such high-quality teams and playing against them so well. I think it was relieving, for one thing, to know that we brought that [quality] back from California.”
Harvard, which graduates only two seniors this year, has much room for improvement upon its sixth-place finish. The team saw this season as, if nothing else, a time to build.
“We bring back a group of seniors looking for their last ‘hoorah’ next year,” Minnis said. “This year got us going in the right direction, but we have four kids coming in that I’m really excited about. We set the bar really high, but I think it’s definitely easy to get over.”
—Staff writer Patrick Galvin can be reached at email@example.com.