Coming into collegiate athletics, an uncomfortable adjustment for many Division I athletes is no longer being in the starting lineup, playing in every game, or racking in the most minutes played.
For Bronte-May Brough, a first-year on Harvard’s top-notch field hockey team, it was quite the opposite.
Leading the team in games played (17), games started (17), goals (12), shots (73), game-winning goals (3), and overall points (25), the defender was at the heart of each game in the 2022 season. Despite this, she hands off most of the credit to her team.
“Field hockey is a team game,” the Uttoxeter, England native said. “Without the other 25 girls around me, the season wouldn't have even happened.”
Brough and other first-years on the team began their first season with the Crimson following a tremendous, history-making 2021 season by Harvard field hockey where it made it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, losing in a double overtime heartbreaker to Northwestern, who went on to win the entire tournament. This made the 2022 season very highly anticipated, one with high expectations and even higher standards — two things Brough was well aware of in moving across the Atlantic to Cambridge.
“I feel like most of that expectation was within the team and driven by us,” she stated. “Obviously, this season, we didn't quite achieve what we'd hoped. [It] all came down to the one Princeton game, and we didn't quite achieve that.”
Despite holding an impressive 13-4 record, in which all four losses were against top-15 opponents, Harvard fell short of the ending it had worked for, ending the season without an Ivy League championship nor a bid to the 2022 NCAA Division I Field Hockey Tournament. Instead, this right was granted to another Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team, most likely Louisville or Wake Forest.
The Crimson had toppled Louisville in 2021 during the NCAA tournament to reach the quarterfinal round for only the second time in program history. At the time in 2022, Harvard was in a strong position to gain the bid, sitting at 16th place in the nation and holding a 0.765 winning percentage. Princeton had received an automatic bid from the Ivy League — which is given only one ticket — while eight other teams received at-large qualifiers, with four from the ACC and four from the Big Ten.
Historically, Princeton field hockey is the main rival of Harvard. Each year, the Ivy League title switches off between the two schools. In 2021, Harvard earned the title after a well-fought penalty shootout, ending the game at 2-1.
In 2022, Princeton had the advantage of an older squad, whereas many of Harvard’s starters and key players were first-years and sophomores who had not yet experienced the Harvard-Princeton intensity — one where Ivy titles and NCAA tournament bids are at stake.
This year, Brough and her classmates will have more experience in playing in Tiger territory and are motivated to earn the bid they missed out on last Fall.
“We have Princeton week, which is the week before the Princeton game, [where] we [are] especially driven towards the game, adapting our training sessions, but mostly like focusing on ourselves and what we're going to control,” described Brough about the way Harvard prepares for the Princeton game.
“I think the team deals with it really, really well in a way that it's more excitement rather than nerves — everyone's really up for it,” continued the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
“That was such a different vibe that I was getting from the team that week, everyone was so excited, so ready,” Brough said. “I think everyone loves the competition, which is such a nice feeling rather than the other. Everyone's out there ready to go for it instead of shying away.”
There's no doubt that Harvard field hockey is fired up about the way its season ended so abruptly last fall and that it will return in full force in August. Once considered the underdogs, they are far from underdogs.
Following Harvard’s surprising lost chance at an NCAA tournament run, the NCAA will change the way the single Ivy League bid to the tournament is chosen: rather than the Ivy League tournament deciding both the named Ivy Champion and NCAA ticket holder, the two will be mutually exclusive.
The Ivy League will now have a regular season champion — the Ivy Champion — and an Ivy League tournament will follow, which decides who gets a bid to the nation’s Division I tournament. If Harvard wins in the regular season and loses the tournament, there is still a chance it can receive an at-large bid from the NCAA, given that it would still be the Ivy League Champion.
“We all know we want to go further and potentially win, so that's what we're aiming for,” Brough said. “Before, [we] were considered underdogs, and [we are] trying to adapt to ‘Oh wait, maybe we're not underdogs anymore.’ That mindset is kind of hard, but I think we're getting there.”
After beating ranked opponents and playing well-matched games against many other schools, such as Saint Joseph’s University, Maryland, and the University of Connecticut, the Crimson knows that it has what it takes to make statement victories and gain an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
“The feeling of disappointment when we didn't get a bid for the NCAA, taking it through to next year, we have a really strong list of teams we are planning for next fall,” Brough said. “Taking that feeling into every game is going to be really important for the team instead of letting others decide whether we get through the NCAAs, making sure we win the Ivies and the Ivy Tournament, ensuring we get in on our own is going to be massive, I think.”
And Brough will continue doing just that and more that this fall as she embarks on another impressive season with Harvard — possibly, one with more shots and goals scored than she already has racked up — but definitely one with more confidence, skills, and knowledge in how to play her best game in collegiate field hockey.
— Staff writer Mairead B. Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @baker_mairead.