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Harvard Women's Water Polo On Fire, Holds Impressive 17-4 Record

Junior attacker Sasha Constandse gears up for a shot on net in the women's water polo game against La Salle University on March 5. Harvard defeated the Explorers 13-9, and will next face No. 13 University of Michigan this morning.
Junior attacker Sasha Constandse gears up for a shot on net in the women's water polo game against La Salle University on March 5. Harvard defeated the Explorers 13-9, and will next face No. 13 University of Michigan this morning. By Cory K. Gorczycki
By Mandy B. Brenner, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard women’s water polo made a splash in the pool during its spring break, securing three consecutive wins at the Arizona State University Invitational. The Crimson’s victories included a dominating 13-10 win over Arizona State University, who were previously ranked ninth in the nation. The Crimson also achieved convincing wins against Marist University and Salem University. Although the team suffered a narrow loss to University of the Pacific, it bounced back with a 16-0 win against Santa Clara University. With a nine-game win streak and a roster of experienced and talented players, Harvard is poised for continued success as it will face off against upcoming opponents, including the University of Michigan and Saint Francis University.

In its game against ASU, the Crimson’s strategy gave the Sun Devils little room to breathe, with Irvine, Calif. native sophomore Erin Kim, who hails from forcing OT with two clutch fourth-quarter goals. Harvard’s domination didn’t stop the Canadian — senior Jaiden Miller gave the Crimson its first lead with her two goals in OT,, and the game wrapped up with second-year senior captain Grace Thawley’s hat-trick.

The hat-trick trend continued in both the Marist and Salem games with junior Ella Prentice helping the Crimson maintain a 10-3 lead going into halftime against Marist and first-year Ruby Hodge against Salem. In the match against Marist, both second-year senior captain Zoe Banks and junior Alexis Kieckhafer aided the Crimson from the net, with Banks making nine saves and Kieckhafer making three.

“This is a very strong team. We are reaping the benefits of Covid-19 right now because I have four super seniors and two seniors, so the leadership and experience we have on this team is amazing,” said head coach Ted Minnis regarding the team’s hot streak.

The Crimson, with a nine-game win streak, made its way to the West Coast, where it played the No. 3 University of California Berkeley. Though Minnis said the Crimson had a “slow start in the first quarter,” it “beat [Berkley] the rest of the way” following halftime. Heading into the second half, the Crimson shortened the gap, making up nine goals, but were unable to tie the game in the Golden Bears’ home territory, and the Harvard victory streak ended in a 13-9 loss.

Prior to the match, both Kim and Banks received CWPA weekly honors. Kim received the honor for racking up six goals, two of which sent the Crimson into OT against ASU, and one assist, while Banks won Defensive Player of the Week for her 15 saves and back-to-back wins. Banks, who also was also given CWPA All-Conference First-Team honors following the end of last season, was lauded by her co-captain Thawley for “consistently top-notch performance,” and for being “the backbone of this team and a large reason for our spring break success.”

“With incredible depth, a full pool of dominant scorers and attackers, a strong line of centers and center defenders, and talent in the cage, our main strength seems to be our versatility, when one girl is in foul trouble or isn’t playing, you can bet there’s another girl who will step up to that role,” Thawley said.

In their second OT game of the break, the Crimson lost a close 16-15 game to the No. 14 University of the Pacific. Highlights from this match include senior Brooke Hourigan’s three goals and three assists to total six of the 15 points scored by the Crimson, while sophomore Kaity Greenwald, first-year Ella Schneider, Hodge, and first-year Heidi Heffelfinger all picked up one goal each. Thawley and Kim tacked on a pair of goals each.

“We knew we had the tools in our toolbox to tackle this game under pressure. While Pacific ultimately didn’t go our way, there is absolutely no question in all our minds that this team puts 100% effort towards winning even the most down-to-the-wire moments,” said Thawley regarding the Crimson’s tight finishes.

Following the shootout loss, the Crimson came back hungry that afternoon, defeating Santa Clara University 16-0.

“Our ASU and Pacific games were the first two to go into overtime this season, and the team’s mentality was to use these new game-time moments as opportunities to get better and execute the game plan under pressure,” Thawley commented.

Harvard women’s water polo's success over spring break showcases the team's skill, depth, and versatility on the field, according to Thawley. With a strong roster of experienced players, the Crimson's leadership and teamwork have led to impressive performances against top-ranked opponents, and are a testament to its commitment to excellence.

Looking forward to its upcoming matches this weekend, the Crimson will play a series of three games at Blodgett Pool, including a doubleheader on Saturday. It will face No. 13 University of Michigan and Bucknell University on Saturday, April 1st at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., respectively, as well as Saint Francis University on Sunday, April 2nd at 10:30 a.m.
— Staff writer Mandy B. Brenner can be reached at mandy.brenner@thecrimson.com.

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