As autumn enters full swing with the East Coast bracing for Hurricane Joaquin, so too does conference play in the Ivy League. For the Harvard women’s soccer team, this Saturday brings an important road date with archrival Yale.
“Every game in the Ivy League is just as important as [any] other,” junior goalkeeper Lizzie Durack said. “But there’s always a bigger crowd than usual when we play Yale.”
As in years past, the Crimson (3-6-1, 1-0 Ivy) will be facing a tough test when it travels up to New Haven for its Saturday afternoon matchup. While Harvard has not lost in the series since 2007, only once in the past five years has the game between the two squads been decided by more than one goal.
Last year, the clash ended in a scoreless draw after two overtimes. There were plenty of scoring opportunities for both sides, with each team registering 14 shots–three on target for Yale (3-4-2, 0-1-0) and four for the Crimson. Despite the numerous chances, neither team was able to produce the go-ahead tally in Cambridge.
“That was a great game,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “Very end-to-end. Either team could have won, but it just ended up in a tie.”
After losing seven seniors to graduation, this year’s Harvard team will be drastically different from the team that took the field against the Bulldogs last season. For several Crimson players, it will be the first Ivy League road match of their collegiate careers.
Freshman forward Leah Mohammadi saw significant action against Penn last weekend and fellow newcomers Hannah Natanson and Zayne Matulis figure to log minutes this weekend as well. Harvard’s depth will be key against a Bulldogs team that will be hungry for its first Ivy League victory of the year.
“They’re a very dangerous attacking team with a lot of pace, and on the other side, they have a solid defense that’s hard to score on,” Leone said.
The Crimson has struggled this season against teams boasting strong defenses. Harvard has scored seven goals in its 10 games, while conceding 12. The Crimson’s low scoring output, however, can in part be attributed to the quality of the opponents the team faced during nonconference play. It suffered losses to three top-25 opponents, including an away defeat to Virginia, the No. 1 team in the country at the time.
“Playing a tough pre-Ivy schedule definitely helped the team find out its weaknesses, and gave us the time to fix them before Ivy games started,” said senior midfielder/defender Brooke Dickens. “It wasn’t just a physical test, but a mental one.”
After struggling through the early stages of the season, Harvard now turns its full attention to the Ivy League, which it aims to win for a third straight year. Dickens figures to be an important factor in the team’s performance against Yale, as she is currently tied for the team lead in goals with junior forwards Joan Fleischman and Midge Purce. The team has tallied four goals in its last four games.
Dickens and Fleischman were the two goal-scorers last Saturday when the Crimson opened Ancient Eight play with a 2-0 victory over Penn at Jordan Field. Durack only had to make two saves in a game that Harvard dominated for almost the entire 90 minutes. Despite the team’s challenging nonconference schedule, the Crimson is undefeated in the games that ultimately determine the team’s fate.
While Harvard has its work cut out for itself on the field, the team will face another challenge from the skies. Heavy storms are forecasted throughout New England for the entire weekend.
“The ball moves quicker for sure in the rain,” Dickens said. “But both teams deal with the same thing, so it shouldn’t be a factor.”
Leone also downplayed the effect that the weather will have on the game, citing the increased preparation that his team can do now that it has more time between games in conference play. Whereas the Crimson played multiple games each week during the nonconference portion of its season, it now only has one matchup per week against Ivy opponents.
The added time for preparation reflects the added importance of these games, and Leone hopes his team is ready for the challenge.