For the Harvard women’s soccer team, aggressive play won the day in a battle against Penn on Saturday.
Coming off a tough nonconference slate against opponents including the likes of No. 1 Virginia and now-No. 20 Connecticut, the Crimson (3-6-1, 1-0-0 Ivy) rebounded in its first Ivy League game of the season, launching 25 shots en route to a 2-0 win over Penn (4-2-2, 0-1-0) at Jordan Field.
Senior midfielders Brooke Dickens and Haley Washburn made the difference on offense, scoring a goal apiece to help Harvard take its first step towards capturing the Ancient Eight crown for the third time in as many years.
“We struggled in the pre-Ivy League games to get points on the board, but we took everything we learned, and we played a whole 90 minutes tonight,” junior forward Joan Fleischman said.
Harvard wasted no time putting its aggressiveness on display. An errant pass by Washburn immediately after the kickoff foreshadowed the physical attacking style that the Crimson would employ throughout its victory over the Quakers.
Penn could not match up to this style of play, managing just five shots on the day to Harvard’s 25.
“Ivy League games are always about who wants it more, who’s more physical,” Fleischman said. “We brought it tonight, we won the physical battle, and that’s how we won the game.”
The Crimson defense, especially in the midfield, stymied many of Penn’s attempts at moving the ball up the field. As a result, the Quakers were forced to use an aerial attack of chip shots and headers to their forwards over the top of Harvard’s midfielders that did not provide any real test to the Crimson’s back line of defense until the 31st minute of the game.
But even during the latter portion of the first half when Penn began to gain traction towards Harvard’s goal with a few crosses that nearly led to scoring chances, the Crimson defense held firm. The Quakers could only muster one shot before the break.
“We had great defense from the forwards, to the midfield, to the back, to our goalkeeper,” Dickens said. “Everyone was defending. We made it our goal to be first to the ball, and every position did a great job of doing that.”
Harvard’s staunch defense fluidly transitioned to its offensive attack. The Crimson’s prowess and physicality on the ball fostered many flank runs down both sidelines that led to a bevy of crosses, free kick opportunities, and scoring chances.
With only one minute left on the clock before halftime, an untimely Penn foul set up a Harvard free kick that led to the Crimson’s first Ivy League goal of the season. Dickens capitalized, putting the ball in the back of the net after senior defender Alika Keene’s header from the middle of the box missed just wide and funneled to the midfielder following a touch from junior defender Bailey Gary.
“It was definitely a team effort goal—from the foul, the free kick, to Bailey keeping it in on the in-line, and [the ball] just bouncing out to me and kicking it as hard as I possibly could and keeping it low,” Dickens said.
Dickens’s goal, her second of the season would be the only one that Harvard would need. But an additional goal from Fleischman off of another free kick—a cross from Washburn— in the 58th minute set the final score line.
“[It was] really hard from beginning to end, and we just kept the ball,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “It was good to see a release of pent-up frustration for the first few weeks.”
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