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Midway through the second half, the Harvard women’s soccer team took a series of corner kicks. The Crimson failed to convert its first two crosses into the box and the score remained locked, 1-1. On the third corner, Harvard decided to switch its strategy.
Co-captain Meg Casscells-Hamby sent a soft pass to sophomore forward Midge Purce, who dribbled towards Columbia’s goal. Purce was taken down just outside the box, setting up a free kick for senior Bethany Kanten. Kanten returned to the Crimson’s original strategy by sending a high cross into the box.
But this time, Purce connected. Her header sailed into the back of the net, giving Harvard its second goal of the game and its second consecutive Ivy title.
Just like this goal, nothing came easy for the Crimson (10-4-2, 5-1-1 Ivy) in its must-win contest against the Lions (7-4-6, 2-3-2).
“It was a battle,” co-captain Marie Margolius said. “It was not pretty. It was exactly what you would expect a championship game to be like. Columbia’s a really good team and we had to give everything we had. But we pulled it off, and I think it’s a testament to our mentality and our grit.”
Although Harvard dominated possession in the first half, the team could not find its rhythm. The Crimson struggled to connect passes or generate any serious threats to the Lions’ defense. Columbia’s goalkeeper easily handled Harvard’s first three shots on goal. This was familiar territory for the Crimson offense, which had a .124 shot percentage this season.
“We practiced finishing all week,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “But it still didn’t exactly show up in the game. And yet they fought through a day that wasn’t their A-plus.”
Nearing the 30-minute mark of the first half, the Crimson broke through. Junior forward Emily Mosbacher sent a cross to Purce who one-touched it into far right pocket of the net to give Harvard a 1-0 advantage.
This goal seemed decisive, since the Crimson had only dropped one nonconference contest and no league games when it scored at least one goal.
But Harvard surrendered its lead with two-and-a-half minutes left in the first half. Lions’ senior forward Colleen Rizzo headed the ball to teammate Erin Falk off a Columbia free kick from 40 yards out. Despite a handful of Crimson defenders, the Lions’ senior midfielder managed to tip the ball into the back of the net to even the score.
“We were fortunate to be 1-1 at half,” Leone said. “We were playing okay, but not at the pace we needed to play at. So we wanted to just come out with a better attitude and a better focus in the second half, and that’s what we did.”
Columbia carried the momentum from its late equalizer into the second half. The Lions took three corners in the first five minutes of the period. But Columbia could not manage a shot on goal in these opening moments—or in the rest of the half.
The Lions’ defense entered the game as the 11th best in the nation for goals against. Columbia allowed just nine goals in its first 16 games and held all but two of its previous opponents to a goal or fewer. But in this battle, Harvard’s defense came out on top. The Crimson allowed the Lions just two shots in the contest.
After Columbia failed to capitalize on its three corners, it appeared that Harvard would do the same. But the third corner came together for the Crimson. The Lions’ foul on Purce, one of Columbia’s nine in the second half, set up Purce’s second goal of the afternoon and eighth of the season.
And in this half, Harvard refused to squander its advantage. Although Columbia threatened again with just over two minutes left in the period, sophomore goalkeeper Lizzie Durack came out of net to intercept the Lions’ late drive and preserve the Crimson lead.
For the Harvard seniors, this Ivy title was their third in four years.
“It really stacks them up against the best that Harvard’s ever had,” Leone said. “To win three Ivy Championships is quite an accomplishment. I couldn’t be prouder of that class.”
—Staff writer Eileen Storey can be reached at email@example.com.
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