On Saturday evening, Harvard women’s soccer will head to Columbia for its final contest of the season. After a hard-earned 2-1 double-overtime win against Dartmouth, the Crimson (8-8, 3-4 Ivy) has the opportunity take home its 11th-straight winning record. The league-leading Lions (9-5-1, 5-1) stand in the way.
“Any away game is going to be a little bit more difficult,” said co-captain Caroline Chagares. “It’s going to be a good opportunity for us to battle against one of the best teams in the Ivy League for our last game.”
While Harvard battled the Big Green last week, Columbia found itself in a similarly tight matchup against Yale. The Lions ultimately fell, 0-1, after the Bulldogs scored on a penalty kick in the last minute of the game. That goal was the only tally Columbia has conceded in all six games of its Ivy League play this season.
But the loss will only serve as motivation. If the Lions defeat the Crimson, they can nab at least a share of the Ivy title.
“Unfortunately, we’re outside of that mix [of Ivy contenders],” Harvard coach Chris Hamblin said. “But we’re going to treat this game as we do any other, and we’re going to put [up] our best performance and try and get the result.”
The Crimson’s offense, which has slowed down in the past few weeks, faces an uphill climb. The team has lost three of its last four games, having just snapped a three-game losing streak last Saturday, and has been shut out in two of those losses.
Meanwhile, the Lions have standout junior goalie Sophie Whitehouse between the posts, who, before last week, hadn’t conceded a single goal since a 3-2 overtime loss against Saint Joseph’s on September 17.
“We’re looking to turn their back line, to get shots off,” said Chagares. “This Columbia team in particular has a very good back line, so it’ll definitely be a challenge.”
A possible solution to this problem for Harvard comes in the form of Ivy League Rookie of the Week Murphy Agnew. Agnew, a forward, scored both goals against Dartmouth to lead all Ivy scorers in the past week, and leads the team in points (13).
Close behind her and just as crucial is junior midfielder Leah Mohammadi, who is tied with Agnew for the team-best in goals (four) and has 12 points on the season. Both of Agnew’s goals on Saturday came off feeds from Mohammadi; the Crimson will hope to see the two link up again against the Lions.
“[Agnew] and [Mohammadi] have been dangerous offensive threats for us all year,” said Hamblin. “It was nice to see that come to fruition against Dartmouth, and we’re going to need to rely on our combination play again against Columbia.”
On the other side of the field, Columbia sports a formidable offensive lineup too. Though Yale shut them out, the Lions have outscored opponents 34-12 over this season. Senior forward Natalie Neshat is the player to watch, with a team-high nine goals and 19 points. While Harvard began its season playing exceptionally tight defense, the team now has a higher goals-against than goals-for average. That is a trend that will need to change on Friday.
“Defenders have had to really step up, which I think they’ve done a good job of doing,” said Chagares. “We have to stay organized, make sure everyone’s communicating in the back. Everyone is going to have to defend hard.”
Critical to this, of course, is the play of the Crimson’s goalies, sophomore Kat Hess and junior Danielle Etzel, who usually split time in the net. Hess did not play against the Big Green due to injury, and Etzel played a full 90 minutes, conceding only one goal on a corner kick. So far, Harvard is undecided on whether Etzel will have the same duties again, or if Hess will join her.
“[Etzel] had a really great game against Dartmouth,” said Hamblin. “Time will tell where [Hess] is at...but obviously [Etzel] is fit and healthy, and we’ll wait to see what our status is on goalkeeping.”
Most of all, Harvard will look to have a triumphant finish in a season of ups and downs. This year saw a strong opening and hopes that the Crimson would once again be in contention for the Ivy title, but injuries to key players—including Chagares and co-captain and defender Marie Becker—threw a wrench into the team’s fine-tuned machine. If not the Ivy crown, this season has featured promising flashes of skill and leadership from a number of younger players that bode well for the future. For now, though, it comes down to Saturday.
“The season went by really fast,” said Chagares. “But we’re just trying to do everything we can control right now, and get this one against Columbia. We’re going to be focusing on ourselves to prepare as best as we can for Saturday.”
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