Deep into extra time, a meager five meters stood between the Harvard women’s rugby team and the try zone. With seconds winding off the clock, junior co-captain Hope Schwartz accelerated through an opening in Dartmouth’s line to score the go-ahead try and give the Crimson a 10-5 victory over the Big Green on Saturday afternoon.
Entering the game, Harvard (3-2, 3-2 Ivy) was locked in a four-way tie for second place in the Ancient Eight. Since only four teams advance to the Ivy League Championships, the Crimson’s postseason aspirations were on the line. With the last-minute victory on Saturday, Harvard kept its hopes for a back-to-back title alive.
“This was a must-win for us,” Crimson coach Sue Parker said. “The team came out and just had unbelievable tenacity in executing the game plan. It was kind of an ugly game given the weather, but the effort, the communication, and the teamwork were the best we had all season long.”
The Crimson dominated possession throughout the afternoon. Although Harvard kept the ball well into Dartmouth’s defensive zone for a majority of the contest, the Crimson struggled to break through and score. Strong on-field tackling from the Big Green (2-3, 2-2 Ivy) continually thwarted Harvard’s efforts near the try-zone, keeping the game locked in a scoreless tie.
In the final moments of the first half, Crimson senior flank Lenica Morales-Valenzuela broke the Dartmouth line and the tie, scoring a try to give Harvard a 5-0 lead heading into intermission.
“Today when we went out, we went out with a ‘we need this’ mentality and a ‘we are going to do it’ mentality,” co-captain Kayleigh Henry said. “So although we did hit a few bumps, we just knew we were going to score.”
Saturday’s rain made the contest a defensive affair. Both teams had difficulty making strong, crisp passes and getting the slippery ball out wide, thus confining the game to the center of the field.
Parker made adjustments at halftime to try to help the Crimson capitalize on its surfeit of scoring opportunities.
“We went more to a pick-and-go type attack that allowed us to retain possession and continue to chew up some ground and put some more points on the board,” Parker said.
With this adjustment in strategy, Harvard’s offense continued to apply pressure and control the tempo of the game in the second half. But the Crimson still had difficulty getting past the Big Green line to score.
Coming off of last week’s loss at Princeton—a result that jeopardized the Crimson’s spot in the Ivy League tournament—Harvard knew it needed to make changes on the field.
In practice this week, Parker focused on giving her young players more experience in game-like situations.
“We worked a lot more on executing the game plan,” Parker said. “We put other, smaller technical pieces of the game to the side and decided to work on bigger picture things.”
One break in the game plan threatened to ruin the efforts that the Crimson had put forth the entire week.
With just under 10 minutes left in the half, Dartmouth junior wing Kerry Anne Conlin took a pass from her teammate at midfield and powered downfield to score a try and even the score, 5-5.
The intensity of the game thus picked up in those final 10 minutes, with both teams battling for the lead. The Big Green vied for another try, attempting to repeat its 2013 regular season victory over Harvard. But it was Schwartz and the Crimson offense that strung together one final attack to earn the win and four additional points in the Ivy League standings.
“Every single person played a full 80 minutes,” Henry said. “We were able to come out and deliver. I’ve never been this proud of this team.”
—Staff writer Eileen Storey can be reached at email@example.com.
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