The No. 20 Harvard women’s water polo team (16-8, 5-1 CWPA) nears the end of its season looking toward the CWPA Eastern Championships.
The Crimson will travel to Princeton’s DeNunzio pool this weekend to face three CWPA Western teams, including No. 16 Indiana (13-11, 1-1) on Saturday and No. 15 Michigan (12-10, 3-0 CWPA) on Sunday.
Harvard’s eight losses are 12 fewer than last year’s campaign. Faced with a disappointing 6-5 loss against Brown in the Ivy League tournament on Feb. 22, the Crimson regained its confidence by sweeping a trio of contests over a weekend at Bucknell before winning five of eight against talented California teams during spring break.
“We had every opportunity to win [the Brown game],” junior attacker Yoshi Andersen said. “But we missed shot after shot, ultimately losing the game. Our highest point was our weekend at Bucknell when we finally stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and decided we would take control of our games.”
Notably, Harvard scored a big upset against then-No. 19 Santa Clara over spring break. The Crimson defense stood strong in the game, limiting the Broncos to only one goal each quarter. Harvard, on the other hand, had no trouble scoring, netting at least three goals in each quarter en route to a 14-4 win.
The Crimson nearly pulled off another upset against No. 11 UC Davis. Harvard took the Mustangs to overtime, but UC Davis managed to clinch the victory in the waning seconds of the extra frame.
“I felt hungry going into that game because each time we have played them in the past, we have had close wins and losses,” said Andersen, who leads the Crimson in goals this season with 49. “We shut them down and implemented our game plan that used many different things we learned about ourselves over the California trip.”
The overtime tension against UC Davis was reminiscent of Harvard’s pivotal Senior Day game against Marist on March 7. After a goalless first overtime and key saves from captain goalkeeper Ariel Dukes, the Crimson won that match, 9-7.
“It was really special to send our seniors out on such a high note,” said sophomore attacker Alexis Del Toro. “I hadn’t experienced that amount of intensity and heart in a game at Harvard quite like that…. It’s one of my favorite games I’ve ever played.”
The Crimson owes some of its newfound success to its four rookies, who have improved Harvard’s depth and flexibility on both offense and defense. Freshman goaltender Cleo Harrington—who has notched CWPA Division I/II Rookie of the Week honors—has stepped in to share the net with the graduating Dukes, posting a team-best 124 saves in 16 games.
“It has made a huge difference that we can sub six for six and not lose our momentum,” Andersen said. “Each of [the freshmen] brought a new strength to our team that I didn’t even realize we lacked until they filled the role.”
Harvard continues on its road to the CWPA Eastern Championship. At Princeton, Harvard will face Notre Dame College of Ohio (1-8, 0-3) and the Hoosiers on Saturday before lining up against the Wolverines on Sunday.
Harvard is 0-5 all-time against Michigan, which will enter the weekend ranked second only to Princeton in the CWPA polls. On Monday, junior Wolverine goaltender Julia Campbell claimed her second CWPA Defensive Player of the Week award in three weeks after making five saves in a 13-12 overtime win against Indiana last weekend.
The Hoosiers rank third in the conference, just ahead of Harvard, which ranks fourth.
The action in New Jersey will preview Ivy rematches with Princeton and Brown on April 16 and 18, respectively, as well as the CWPA Eastern Championships, which will be hosted at DeNunzio Pool.
The last CWPA Eastern Championships saw Harvard entering the tournament as the seventh seed and placing seventh overall. However, this year’s Crimson has taken down multiple teams this year that it struggled against last year. Del Toro feels ready to compete for a conference title.
“We’ve grown immensely since we started, and I’ve loved battling with this team every second we jump in the pool,” Del Toro said. “I think we’re in a really good pace for Easterns this year. It definitely won’t be easy, but we are so ready for the challenge.”
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