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With a dwindling two seconds remaining in the tied game on Saturday, Lara Beekhuis slammed a shot past the Cornell goaltender, securing a dramatic victory for the Harvard Crimson. Thanks to Beekhuis and her buzzer-beater goal against the Big Red, the Harvard field hockey team went undefeated in Ivy League play and had a successful conclusion to their regular season.
The Crimson concluded its season with an impressive 13-3 overall record. Two of its three losses occurred in overtime play, against Liberty and Duke. These defeats, though difficult, served as a source of inspiration for Harvard, for they showcased the Crimson’s potential to contend with top-ranked opponents.
“Although they were challenging losses, I think they ultimately really boosted our confidence because they really showed how we can compete with the top teams,” said junior midfielder Emily Guckian.
Since the losses, Harvard has proceeded to excel against high-ranked teams, including wins against No. 10 Syracuse and No. 14 St. Joseph’s. The final games of the Crimson’s season also featured particularly tough Ivy League competitors, such as Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell.
Last year, Harvard suffered a devastating loss against Princeton in the final stretch of October, which ended their season by eliminating their contention for an NCAA tournament bid. This year, the team was determined to win. The UPenn game on Oct. 21 determined the Ivy League in-season title, and in Ithaca, the Crimson were set to play their last regular season game and vie for the opportunity to host the Ivy League Tournament.
The Crimson’s strength of schedule throughout the entirety of the year helped to prepare the team for the competitive Ivy League stretch leading into the playoffs. After playing multiple games against opponents ranked in the top 10 of the NCAA, the Crimson were ready to move into Ivy League play.
“Our coaches worked really hard to put together a really rigorous set of games to prep us for the postseason,” said first-year forward Sage Piekarski. “I think those challenges early in the season have made our team a lot closer and more productive and successful all around.”
After facing strong opponents such as the University of Virginia, Liberty University, Duke, and Syracuse, Harvard had the experience and toughness to defeat Princeton in a decisive 4-0 game. Their momentum has continued, with a 2-0 win over UPenn on Harvard’s Senior Day, and a 2-1 victory against Cornell.
Their undefeated performance in Ivy League play secured the Crimson the title of the regular season Ivy League Champions. Beating Cornell this past Saturday also earned Harvard the chance to host the inaugural Ivy League Field Hockey Tournament in Cambridge, in which it is also the top seed.
The tournament will be held this upcoming weekend, on the Berylson Family Field Hockey Field, with semifinal play on Nov. 3, and the championship game on Nov. 5. The tournament holds significant promise and opportunity for Harvard. Winning the tournament will guarantee Harvard a place in the NCAA tournament.
“This is where we belong,” Piekarski declares, “we belong in the top 10 rankings.”
While the Harvard team is clearly very technically skilled, the players are motivated by their bonds as friends, which significantly contributes to their success on the pitch. Through the strong incorporation of younger players, such as Piekarski, Beekhuis, and Smilla Klas, it is evident that the Crimson fosters a welcoming environment for their athletes. Paired with their considerable athletic talents, the team’s chemistry, both on and off the field, has helped Harvard earn the 9th nationally ranked spot heading into the playoff season.
“We are a team of best friends,” explains Emily Guckian, “ultimately, the field hockey brings us together. But I think without the field hockey, we’re a really solid group of friends who are always looking out for each other and making sure we're getting the best out of each other. So that makes it a lot more enjoyable to be on the field together.”
Now, the Crimson has its sights set on the Ivy League Tournament but are also cultivating aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. When asked how they are preparing for their upcoming games, sophomore midfielder Kitty Chapple explained that Harvard will not be making any dramatic changes to their game strategy.
“We know, whoever we're playing, the way we're going to play the best is by focusing on ourselves,” Chapple states, “so, we're just going to focus on our game and focus on putting ourselves in the best position that we can do to win each game.”
“We have an exciting 2-3, hopefully 4, weeks ahead of us,” says Guckian, “we are really looking forward to it.”
The Crimson’s first game of the postseason is Friday at 3:00 pm against UPenn, and Harvard will arrive excited to play, while keeping in mind their ultimate goal of a successful campaign in the NCAA tournament.
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