Midge Purce sent the Harvard women’s soccer team’s five seniors out in style as the junior forward’s goal in the 52nd minute lifted Harvard to a 1-0 win over Columbia on Saturday's Senior Day. It was the team’s fourth straight win at Rocko B. Commisso Soccer Stadium in New York.
“I think in practice this week we were really trying to focus on just keeping the ball and not trying to force it because we really wanted to play our game and connect and keep possession, and I think that’s what opened things up for us,” senior Emily Mosbacher said.
It was the final collegiate contest for co-captain Haley Washburn, midfielder Brooke Dickens, defender Alika Keene, and forwards Mosbacher and Lauren Varela. The Crimson (8-7-2, 5-1-1 Ivy) entered Saturday’s contest assured of a second-place Ivy League finish behind Princeton while the Lions (7-8-1, 3-3-1) were vying for sole possession of third place in the conference.
After Harvard was shut out in the first half for the 12th time this season, Purce gathered a pass from sophomore midfielder Dani Stollar and beat Columbia senior goalkeeper Gabbi Dubick to give Harvard the only goal it would need. Stollar, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year, picked up her second assist of the season.
It was the ninth goal of the season and the sixth in Ivy League play for Purce, who is battling Princeton junior forward Tyler Lussi for Ivy League Player of the Year honors. The nine goals overall are the fewest Purce has had over her Crimson career, but the junior leads Harvard in virtually every offensive category and set a career high in shots.
The Crimson dominated the game offensively, despite registering just the one goal. The defense held its fifth different Ivy League opponent scoreless this season. Backup goalkeeper Danielle Etzel tallied her first career shutout and only had to make one save all afternoon.
Purce and classmate Rachel Garcia spearheaded the Harvard offensive attack as they have for most of the season. The duo combined for 16 shots, including seven on goal. The team peppered Dubick with 11 shots on goal, which was tied for the most the team has had in a game this season.
The Crimson’s backline of Dickens, Keene, and junior Bailey Gary and sophomore Marie Becker conceded just two shots on Saturday, with only one reaching Etzel. For the season, the defense did not allow more than two goals in any one game and only conceded three goals in Ivy League play.
“We focused on defending as a whole team,” Dickens said. “From the forwards to the midfield to the defense to the goalkeeper, we had this mindset that we were going to defend together. It’s really great because all the people in front of you are working just as hard as you are.”
The defense was able to neutralize Lions’ freshman forward Emma Anderson, who is fourth in the Ivy League in conference goals, to zero shots. Harvard has won its last eight contests against Columbia, the longest current streak for the Crimson against an Ivy League opponent.
Despite finishing the season with a record of 6-1-1 over its final eight games, Harvard likely will not play in postseason play for the first time in three years. Princeton will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, as the Tigers finished the season with a 6-0-1 record in conference play.
“It’s definitely really difficult to know that it’s your last game and to know that you won’t get to put on the Harvard jersey again,” Dickens said. “Harvard soccer has meant so much to me, so much to my teammates, but we know that this is an experience we’ll take with us the rest of our lives.”
The win was a fitting conclusion for one of the most successful classes in team history. The five seniors finished their careers with a record of 40-21-9 and picked up an NCAA Tournament victory last season, two Ivy League Championships, 21 goals and 21 assists along the way between them.
“It was so special to go out on a win,” Mosbacher said. “I’m so grateful for the whole team for giving one last win to the seniors. This experience has just been everything to me. It’s really been the pinnacle of my college experience.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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