In April 2009, five rookie softball players watched their Ivy League season end with back-to-back losses to Dartmouth—two defeats that kept their team from an Ivy League Championship Series.
As sophomores, the five experienced even greater heartbreak: losing the league title in a third and decisive game, 3-2, against rival Cornell.
Finally, as juniors, the five got their rings, taking the title in a two-game sweep of the Big Red, only to be blanked, 10-0 and 7-0, in the NCAA Regional Round against Arizona and Texas Tech, respectively.
Since the beginning of their Harvard careers, this season’s seniors—Jane Alexander, Rachel Brown, Eve Rosenbaum, Whitney Shaw, and Marika Zumbro—have set their sights and met ever-higher goals. And they’re looking to make 2012 no exception.
“We’re a team that takes it to the next level,” Rosenbaum said. “Freshman year, we didn’t make it to the [Ivy League] Championship…and junior year we won it. It only makes sense for us to…win at NCAA Regionals.”
Although the seniors share a similar goal for the season, they come from a variety of backgrounds off the field and a variety of positions on it. Brown leads the team from the mound, Alexander and Shaw control the infield, Rosenbaum catches behind the plate, and Zumbro contributes on the field wherever she is needed as a utility player. Their hometowns range from California to Maryland, their concentrations from Psychology to Visual and Environmental Studies, and their leadership styles from vocal to understated.
“I think one of the best things about our class is that we have so many different individual strengths, and we complement each other well,” said Brown, who is serving as co-captain with Shaw. “We can inspire and motivate the team, keep the game fun, and also maintain a good team chemistry.”
Aside from generating team unity, the senior class also provides leadership in pressure-packed situations, a role that is integral to the program’s success, according to Harvard coach Jenny Allard.
But keying the squad to success is nothing new to the Crimson’s group of veterans. In her freshman season, Brown was tabbed the Ivy League Rookie of the Year for her performance on the mound and was voted to the All-Ivy First Team. She followed that rookie feat with consecutive unanimous first-team All-Ivy accolades her sophomore and junior years, with the added bonus of Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and Academic All-Ivy League in the 2011 season. Shaw, Zumbro and Alexander have also earned All-Ivy recognition for their achievements at the plate and in the field.
“[The seniors] have all matured individually,” Allard said. “Rachel had a tremendous impact even as a freshman...Jane has done a tremendous job taking the reins with the freshmen…and Eve has been a tremendous role player for us and really pushes our pitchers.”
As the senior class has grown over the past four years, so has conference play in the Ivy League. The teams in the Ancient Eight increased the number of games played from 14 in 2006 to 20 in the 2011 season. The longer season allowed for a higher level of competition between the teams that helped ensure that no one team dominated. There are more upsets, more heartbreaks and more evenly matched schedules.
“The league is much more anyone’s game now,” Shaw said. “That’s why we need to face every opponent as if they’re the toughest opponent we’ve faced so far, regardless of the name on their jersey.”
Playing more Ivy League games has allowed each team to become more competitive, but, as shown by its increasingly strong record, Harvard has risen above the Ancient Eight pack and, for the first time since the 2002 season, has a chance for back-to-back championships.
And as Allard said, it all comes back to the seniors, who will need both their individual skill and team unity to capture those elusive NCAA Regional wins.
Victory at that level would accomplish a major goal which, even at the beginning of the season, sits in the back of the collective mind of the senior class: cementing a legacy.
“We want to create the dynasty we all dreamed about creating when first signed up to play Harvard softball,” Shaw said.
“I hope we can instill in the team a belief that Harvard softball can do so much more than just dominate the Ivy League,” Brown echoed. “This team has the potential to win Regionals, and I hope that this becomes a permanent goal of the Harvard softball program.”
—Staff writer B. Marjorie Gullick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.