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Friday’s game had a feeling of déjà vu for the Harvard women’s lacrosse team.
The Harvard Crimson (8-8, 4-3 Ivy), for the second weekend in a row, traveled to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on the No. 11 Cornell Big Red (12-5, 6-1).
This time around the stakes were far higher. After last week’s 13-6 loss to Cornell saw Harvard lock up the fourth and final spot in the Ivy League women’s lacrosse tournament, the Crimson returned to the Big Red’s home turf for the tournament semifinal on Friday.
The winner would get a chance to play for the conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, while the loser’s season would end abruptly.
In the end, despite the heightened importance, the final result turned out the same, with Friday’s contest playing out much like last weekend’s matchup.
Harvard got off to a strong start, but the same problems that cost the team a week before came back to haunt the Crimson in its return to Schoellkpof Field. The team ran into foul trouble too often and Cornell took advantage with clinical finishing coupled a rock solid performance in net. At the final whistle, the Big Red claimed yet another victory over Harvard, beating out the team, 16-11. With the loss, so too went the Crimson’s season.
“I think we played really hard as a team, and unfortunately we came up a little short,” sophomore midfielder Keeley MacAfee said.
For the second contest in a row, Harvard held its own in most areas of the game against nationally-ranked Cornell. The Crimson only allowed one more draw control to their opponent and swept 15 ground balls to Cornell’s 16. Harvard topped its opponent in clear percentage, getting the ball out of the zone on 12 of 14 attempts, while the Big Red went 14-17.
However, just like last weekend, the difference between the teams showed in their foul counts. The Crimson racked up 36 infractions, while Cornell recorded just 23.
The Big Red was as ruthless in punishing Harvard for its fouls this week as it was last week. The visitors received two yellow cards, and Cornell converted a man-up goal each time. The Big Red also scored on five of its eight free position opportunities.
The game did differ from last week’s contest in that Harvard jumped out to a quick lead. Junior midfielder Julia Glynn, senior attacker Marisa Romeo, and MacAfee each picked up a goal in the first seven minutes, following a Cornell score 90 seconds in. By the 21st minute, the Crimson was leading, 3-1. The Big Red held a 6-1 advantage over Harvard at the same point in last Saturday’s matchup.
However, the Crimson’s hot start wouldn’t be enough to overcome its errors or Cornell’s efficiency in front of net. The Big Red exploded for an 8-3 run in the first period. Cornell would be ahead by three points, 6-9, by half time.
Two of the Big Red’s first-period finishes came from free position opportunities. Cornell also converted on two run-of-play chances stemming from Harvard fouls. At the same time, the Big Red was nearly twice as efficient in front of goal as the Crimson, scoring nine times on 13 shots in the opening period. Harvard fired off 16 shots on frame but only managed a 38 percent conversion rate.
Cornell senior goalie Renee Poullott was largely to blame for the Crimson’s offensive woes. The netminder—ranked fourth in the nation for save percentage—made six stops on the day compared to Harvard’s two.
Poullott’s prowess between the pipes, as well as a trouble with accuracy that has flared up intermittently throughout the season, meant that Romeo, MacAfee, and tri-captain attacker Maeve McMahon—the team’s top scorers—were limited to just seven goals between them on a combined 21 shots.
“We didn't accomplish our goals but we fought hard and stuck together,” Romeo said.
With the Crimson’s top three goal-getters struggling to find the back of the net, at least by their own high standards, it was up to Glynn to provide Harvard’s offensive spark. The junior picked up four finishes, including three in the first half.
Glynn’s second and third goals punctuated three and two-point runs for Cornell, respectively, to give the Crimson some much-needed momentum. McMahon also made sure that Harvard got the last word in the opening stanza, snapping a 3-0 Big Red streak with the final score of the half at 2:38.
The Crimson couldn’t maintain its momentum after the restart, though. Harvard was hurt once again by its fouls, as Cornell picked up two man-up goals and two free position scores in the second half.
The Big Red converted its first free position opportunity of the second period less than two minutes after halftime, and the Crimson wouldn’t get a goal back for 10 minutes. By that time, Cornell had already added two more scores to its second-stanza tally, but McMahon’s second finish of the game and 26th of the campaign cut the Big Red’s lead to five and gave Harvard hope.
Cornell scored a pair of quick goals, but the Crimson responded through three familiar sources. MacAfee, Glynn, and Romeo each picked up another score to reduce the Big Red’s advantage to four points, putting Harvard within reach with 13 minutes remaining.
However, in another echo of last week’s contest, Cornell’s defense, ranked seventh in the nation, squashed any hope of a Crimson comeback. Romeo would score again from a free position chance to complete her hat trick, but the Big Red otherwise managed to keep Harvard off the board for the remainder of the game.
Cornell also got two more goals through Crimson fouls to seal the result. The Big Red scored the first in a man-up position before putting away a free position chance with 2:30 left on the clock to ice the game.
Although the team will be disappointed to bow out of the Ivy League tournament in the first round for the fourth-straight year, it is a testament to the group as a whole, and particularly its senior class, that Harvard has qualified for the tournament for four years in a row.
“I think our seniors were anchors for our team, not only [against Cornell] but all season,” MacAfee said. “They're an irreplaceable group.”
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