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During an exciting weekend of games in Providence, R.I., the Harvard women’s soccer team triumphed over two successive opponents to win the first-ever Ivy League Tournament in history. Thrilling wins against Princeton and Columbia capped the Crimson’s successful Ivy League season and guaranteed a spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Coming into the tournament, Harvard held the No. 2 seed after failing to keep Brown from winning a fourth-consecutive Ivy League regular season victory. Despite that, the team felt ready to challenge for the title.
“I think the goal every season is to win a championship, and the fact that there was an Ivy tournament this year gave us two shots at that: either win the regular season or the Ivy League Tournament Championship,” Head Coach Chris Hamblin said.
“With Brown going 7-0, that ruled that [first] one out, and so all of our sights were set on winning that championship, and Princeton was our first opponent,” he continued. “We tied during the year and so we were focused on finding a way to break them down.”
Similarly to their regular season matchup, the Friday semifinal against Princeton began as a tight affair, with teams trading scoring opportunities and goals. Princeton opened the scoreline in the 16th minute on a penalty kick, but Harvard scored an equalizer 5 minutes later when junior defender Jade Rose made a long-range pass from Harvard’s half into the front of Princeton’s box. Junior midfielder Hannah Bebar seized the opportunity and slotted the ball past the goalkeeper.
“That [goal] was a critical part of the game because they were away from us at that point. And so for Hannah to get that goal was a huge relief for us because we were under a lot of pressure at that point,” Hamblin reflected. “So I think that goal was probably the most important part of that game for us.”
Princeton went up again in the 29th minute but the Crimson’s answer came under three minutes later when junior midfielder Josefine Hasbo — from an astounding central free kick right outside the 18 — curled a shot over the defending wall into the net. The first half ended in a 2-2 draw.
“We’ve been in situations where we’ve been down before previously and we just knew that we had to come out stronger in the second half in order to finish strong,” Hasbo reflected.
In the second half, the picture changed in favor of the Crimson through two successive Harvard goals in the first fifteen minutes. In the 47th minute, sophomore defender August Hunter headed the ball back into Princeton’s box and into the feet of first-year striker Ólöf Kristinsdóttir who chipped it over the goalkeeper into the net. Just six minutes later, senior midfielder/forward Gabby DelPico sprinted into the box, intercepted a pass between two Tigers players, and scored a quick goal. The Crimson kept control of the game until the final whistle and punched their ticket into the final.
“It was obviously a relief but also I think it’s because we showed up in the second half by playing our game, by achieving our goals, by showing our physical perseverance too,” Hasbo added. “So I think, taking all these factors into account, they allowed us to go out there strong and getting the two goals quickly.”
The Crimson came into the Sunday final with a recovery advantage over their opponent, No. 4 seed Columbia, who defeated Brown after a double overtime in the latter semi-final.
“We fortunately played earlier during the day, so we knew we had an advantage in the recovery. I give huge credit to our athletic training staff for their work on our team on Saturday and for helping us recover,” Hamblin said. “I think we had more legs than Columbia on Sunday.”
The first half of the final was an entertaining affair, with Columbia putting pressure on the Crimson’s defensive line in the early minutes and Harvard responding in kind with shots on goal by Rose, Kristinsdótti, and DelPico. However, the game remained scoreless at halftime.
“The first half was really a half of a big game, very frantic and it didn’t really calm down from Columbia or from us,” Hasbo said. “But, obviously, the feeling was the belief that we would do it but we also needed to adjust some technical things to get to the point.”
These adjustments paid great dividends in the second half, with Hasbo’s performance being the highlight. In the 53rd minute, Hasbo scored a long-range rocket shot from 30 yards out. Eight minutes later, she scored again from a cross into the box by senior defender Smith Hunter. Hasbo completed the hat-trick in the 71st with a solo effort in the penalty area which ended in a curved shot that went past the goalkeeper. This was the first Harvard hat-trick since Hasbo accomplished the feat against Central Conn. State on opening day in 2022. The Crimson defense completed the job by not allowing Columbia to score any shots on goal to ensure a final 3-0 victory.
“Obviously, it is amazing to be able to contribute to the result and I’m also very aware that I can’t do this without my team so I was more so happy that we were able to win the trophy and to reach the milestone that we worked for all season,” Hasbo reflected.
After last weekend’s victories, the Crimson will now embark on a more difficult journey ahead: the NCAA tournament, starting this weekend with a game against Maine on home turf.
“[Maine] won their conference, America East, and only lost once this season and they’ve got 11 wins so they are obviously a quality opponent. I think we’ve been fortunate enough to play some really good teams this year to prepare us for whatever coming up next. [...] We’re looking forward to it,” Hamblin said.
On the Crimson’s part, “There’s a ton of potential and a lot of opportunities for us to compete nationally after we were fortunate enough to receive a first seed that we earned. [...] So we now have to prove it and taking on Maine is the only thing we’re thinking about right now. And if we are able to get that done, we will look to whoever is next,” the head coach concluded.
This sense of excitement is also shared amongst the players. “We have been building up a lot of experience during the season and hopefully we’ll keep building on that momentum. [...] Those games require that we are delivering our best so hopefully, we can get a good crowd from Harvard out there and cheer on us on Saturday,” Hasbo said.
Harvard will face Maine this Saturday, Nov. 11th at 5:00 p.m. EST on Jordan Field in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
— Staff writer Nghia L. Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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