In a battle that will likely be for the Ivy League crown, field hockey conference leaders Harvard and Princeton will compete Saturday at the Tigers’ Bedford Field.
The No. 20 Crimson (8-4, 4-0 Ivy League) haven’t won the division since 2004, when the team shared it with Penn. The No. 11 Tigers (9-5, 4-0 Ivy League), on the other hand, have taken the division title 21 of the last 22 times, the one exception being 2005.
The game Saturday will showcase the clash of these two strong programs, with Harvard playing the underdog role and both seeking to undermine their Top 12 ranked opponent’s perfect in-conference record.
“Princeton is always one of our biggest rivals and has consistently won the Ivy League championship in the past so this game is really important for us,” captain forward Sarah Finnemore said. “Besides our team, Princeton is the only other team still undefeated in Ivy League play so this game is quite decisive for our performance. Our team is very excited for this game.”
But even though Princeton is strong, Harvard has also been doing particularly well this season, and is in a good position to get a piece of the Ivy crown. The Crimson boasts both a strong goalkeeper in sophomore Libby Manela, and a record breaking forward in senior Marissa Balleza. After playing in two games last year, Manela has become the Crimson’s go-to keeper, splitting time with junior Olivia Startup.
Since her first start against Yale in late September, Manela has been nearly perfect. Harvard is undefeated with her up top. Only three total opposing shots have slipped past the sophomore and the current six game win streak is tied for the longest in the history of the program. A win Saturday against the Tigers will not only mean an upset achieved, but it will also solidify the team’s place in the history books.
Breaking win streaks, while being a feather in the team’s cap, isn’t the only area in which the Crimson is breaking program records—there are individual records being broken. In the team’s last game against Cornell, Balleza netted two points for Harvard en route to a 5-0 victory. In doing so, the senior forward surpassed the school record with 44 career goals and 103 points. With her performance, Balleza also added Co-Ivy League Player of the Week to her assortment of new titles.
“To me, beating the all time goal and points record for the Harvard field hockey program is really a reflection of our team and the whole program,” Balleza said. “Each year I have been here, we have grown and progressed. Every goal or point I have scored has come from the hard work of this whole team.”
On the opposing side, Princeton brings a strong offense in the form of senior Cat Caro, and will be looking to her to negate Balleza’s effect on the field. Last week, Caro racked up two consecutive hat tricks as the Tigers routed both Brown and Towson 5-1 and 8-0 respectively. In fact, it is Caro who shares last week’s Co-Ivy League Player of the Week with Balleza.
“Princeton has a strong attacking unit but our coaches are working on a strong tactical plan to address their offensive threats,” captain midfielder and back Kyla Cordrey said. “I also think our defensive unit has been making some strong stops recently, so I think we will be ready.”
Their offense isn’t the only thing the Tigers bring to the table. In its last game against Towson, Princeton did not allow a single shot on the goal.
As the Crimson prepares, it is clear it will have to start much quicker. It wasn’t until the 28th minute that Harvard finally scored against Cornell, while the Tigers had slipped five shots into the cage in the same amount of time against Towson.
While their records look similar, Princeton holds the advantage. While the Crimson are 2-1 against ranked opponents, the Tigers have lined up against seven ranked opponents and escaped with victories in two of the competitions. In fact, every one of Princeton’s losses comes from a ranked opponent, the lowest being No. 14 Virginia. Harvard on the other hand, has lost to three unranked opponents.
“We need to just keep playing our own game and have confidence in our game plan,” junior midfielder Hannah Wellington said. “We can’t get psyched out because this is a big game and instead have to trust that each teammate is going to do her own job to be consistent. Then we will come out on top at the end of the 70 minutes.”
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