Following last season’s 12-8 record, which featured an undefeated 7-0 record against Ivy league opponents, the Harvard field hockey team enters the 2017 campaign looking to build on its Ivy League dominance from a season ago.
The team returns 16 members from last season’s Ancient Eight title squad, including sophomore midfielder Bente van Vlijmen. A year after leading the team with eight goals, van Vlijmen has picked up where she left off—scoring four times already to start the season.
Despite the team’s success over the past several seasons, it strives to maintain a sense of humility, treating each game as important as the next and never taking any victory for granted. These sentiments are echoed by team captains Ellie Cookson and Hannah Wellington.
“We never really want to get ahead of ourselves,” Wellington said. “I think that’s what makes us such a great team—the fact that we’re so grounded. Every game is the first step to the bigger prize.”
Coach Tjerk van Herwaarden welcomes seven new freshmen to the roster for this season. On defense, Hannah Pearce, Amy Brooke and Sage Nye join a group known for its fortitude. At midfield, Tessel Huibregtsen and Kolbe Keating join their captains as strong two-way players. In the forward spots, Natalie Sicher and Mimi Tarrant look to provide firepower to Harvard’s already loaded attack. Tarrant, a freshman from Warwickshire, England, has gotten her career off to a great start, scoring four goals and contributing two assists in the team’s opening games.
Van Herwaarden enters his sixth season with the Crimson and seeks to maintain his sustained level of success. Prior to joining the Crimson, he served on the coaching staff at Maryland, where he helped lead the Terrapins to five national championships in seven seasons.
Since moving to Cambridge, he has spearheaded turning Harvard’s field hockey program into a perennial Ivy League contender. The Crimson has posted winning seasons every year since 2013, van Herwaarden’s second year with the team. Most notably, he is the only current coach in the country to win titles in NCAA Division I, USA Field Hockey Women’s High Performance, and the USAFH Men’s National Championship. Despite his decorated resume, van Herwaarden remains humble, a quality which he has instilled into his team.
“Our method is clear,” van Herwaarden said. “We want to take it game by game and approach each game and prepare for whoever the opponent is. The most important game is always the next one.”
After opening the season against a series of non-conference opponents, including then-No. 13 Stanford and No. 2 Connecticut, the Crimson turned its attention to conference play as it took to New Haven this past weekend to face off against Yale. Coming into the weekend’s matchup, Harvard holds a 10-game win streak against Ivy League opponents that dates back to 2015. Against the Bulldogs, the Crimson has won its last five matchups. Coming into this season, the team is hopeful about its chances, but knows that another Ancient Eight title is no guarantee.
“We’re feeling great about Ivy League play,” senior goalkeeper Olivia Startup said. “The Ivy League always plays host to our most exciting games. Really, we’re just looking to play each game as it comes and not look too far forward into the season.”
Last season, Harvard’s biggest threat to the title was Princeton, who finished with a 5-2 record. The Tigers once again look to be the Crimson’s biggest threat, as it returns 18 members from last year’s squad. Harvard and Princeton will face off on October 21 at Berylson Field.
In addition to continuing its success in the Ivy league, the team hopes to improve its performance in the NCAA Tournament after an underwhelming performance last season. After making the tournament, the team lost to No. 3 Syracuse, 5-1, in the first round. While the team may have beaten Princeton in the Ivies, the Crimson had to watch its rival make it all the way to the semifinals before being eliminated by eventual champion Delaware.
“This year we, as always, are shooting to win the Ivies; it’s definitely a great goal for us,” Wellington said. “After that, we would definitely love to get into playoffs and see how far we could advance. I think we don’t have any direct goals per se, but we’re focused on the big pictures while taking it step by step.”
—Staff writer Sean B. Chanicka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.