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With one minute remaining in his final game of his career, senior midfielder Kevin Harrington took his last collegiate penalty kick. The ball shot past the hands of University of Pennsylvania sophomore goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne, sped towards goal, and ricocheted off the post. The shot was emblematic of Harvard’s play on the night: good but not good enough. The team (7-8-2, 5-2-0 Ivy) ended up falling 2-0 to the Quakers (7-8-1, 5-1-1), finishing second in the Ivy League.
Missed opportunities were the theme of Saturday night’s game for the Crimson. The team had 17 shots, 11 corner kicks and one penalty kick, but the players could not capitalize.
On the other side, Penn struck early. In the fourth minute of play, the leading scorer for the Quakers, junior Duke Lacroix attempted a cross from the left side, which was unsuccessfully cleared by the Harvard defense and found its way to Penn attacker Nicky Yin, who took advantage of the Crimson’s bumbling defense and struck a hard shot towards sophomore goalie Evan Mendez. Mendez was unable to get a hand on the ball as the Quakers took an early 1-0 lead.
“We struggled in the early part of the game,” Harvard coach Pieter Lehrer said. “We failed to step offensively which caused a couple of gaps, and they had some players who were dangerous who caused us some problems early.”
With 33 minutes left in the first half, Lacroix got a goal for himself. The Quaker stood alone at the top of the box, received a well-placed pass from his teammate, and dribbled past the Crimson defense to score his eighth goal of the season.
“Duke’s a special player,” Penn coach Rudy Fuller said. “He’s certainly our key guy, and he has scored a lot of key goals. He presents a lot of problems to the opposition because of his athleticism and pace…He’s a really important piece of the puzzle to us.”
Lacroix accounted for four of the Quakers 15 shots on the night. Despite being down 2-0, Lehrer said that Harvard returned to the field after halftime looking reenergized.
“We came out second half wanting to leave everything on the field,” Lehrer said. “We were pushing up a little higher… We created some good opportunities.”
The Crimson earned eight corner kicks in the second half, but could not capitalize due to a strong showing by the Quaker’s defensive line, and four saves made by Polkinhorne.
When the buzzer signaled the end of the game, Penn was declared the Ivy League champion for the eighth time in program history.
Fuller said that both teams showed remarkable improvement this season from their last few seasons. Neither team had fought for the championship since 2009, when Harvard defeated Penn 1-0 to win the Ivy title.
“I credit both programs,” Fuller said. “As was well documented coming into this week, these were the two teams at the bottom last year. It was truly a remarkable turnaround for both of us.”
Harvard was winless in Ivy league play in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, ending both seasons 0-6-1 in the conference. The Quakers went 1-6 on the 2012 season, only defeating the Crimson in conference play.
Harvard revamped its program this season under the leadership and drive of Lehrer. After his run at the University of California-Berkley, Mendez said that Lehrer was able to implement new strategies that helped the Crimson team progress.
“Pieter is fantastic,” Mendez said. “He has insight that we have never had before. He respects you and he gets a lot out of you.”
Prior to beginning play on Saturday, the Crimson team paid tribute to its senior class. The six seniors—A.J. Agha, Brett Conrad, Ross Freidman, William Giahos, Harrington, and Pascal Mensah—were not able to capture a championship in their four years at Harvard. However, Mendez said that they have played a big part of the team’s renaissance this year.
“The seniors are unbelievable,” Mendez said. “They have led the team and taken on a huge leadership role. They have played outstanding as well, and I cannot thank them enough for what they do.”
Despite losing these game-changing seniors, the Crimson players remain optimistic about their prospects in the 2014 season.
“Harvard soccer is back for sure,” Mendez said. “We are going to rebuild next year and will come right back and be in this game once again.”
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