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Resilient Teams Go Farthest In Sports

By Catherine E. Coppinger, Crimson Staff Writer

As I boarded the bus around 4 p.m. on Sunday with the other members of the Harvard women’s soccer team, a single image was stuck in my mind: an improbable shot and the ball hitting net as the clock wound down in double overtime.

Rhode Island 3, Harvard 2. Final score.

The game was just one of many disappointing results for the Crimson this past weekend. Football dropped its first contest of the season to Holy Cross, men’s soccer lost 1-0 to Vermont after taking down UMass by the same margin, and Quinnipiac scored with less than ten minutes to play to secure a 4-3 win over the field hockey team.

Even mighty Auburn—to migrate away from the Ivy League for a minute—fell this weekend, as the defending national championship football team suffered its first loss in the last 18 games at Clemson.

And yet, as the end of September approaches, I can’t help but get excited.

It’ll still be at least a month or so until cool gives way to cold, forcing us all into hibernation mode and daring students to test the hypothesis that you can survive for at least a week in your respective House without physically stepping outside.

For now, a light sweater is all you need to brave the couple minute walk to class. And there’s something about the sting of cold air as it assails your nostrils that seems to signal the official end of summer and the beginning of something new.

September is a month of possibilities.

Although it may already feel like school is in full swing (calm down, it’s only week four), the arrival of October leaves fall sports teams here at Harvard with over a month still to play, including all—or most—of their respective Ivy League games. Each Ancient Eight soccer and football team begins this week with the same record: 0-0 in league play.

As much as it pains me to say it, this time of year reminds me of a storyline that unfolded during Super Bowl XLII (pardon the NFL reference; I’m more than a little preoccupied with fantasy football), as the Giants pulled off an upset over the undefeated Pats.

Before that game began, each team was asked to choose a word that defined them as a whole, and two quick, pre-recorded videos aired the results of this seemingly innocuous task.

First up, the Giants—who started the 2008 season with two losses and entered the Super Bowl on the tail of three playoff wins on the road—picked ‘resiliency.’

As I waited to see which word the Pats had come up with to counter it, I anticipated talk of a ‘dynasty,’ because, well, what word could better describe what was about to be the only team ever go 19-0 in an NFL season than the word TV announcers had been throwing around since week one? Records had already been broken; all that remained was to capture the ring.

Interestingly, what flashed across the screen instead was ‘teamwork.’ Important, sure, but is that the best you could come up with? A sports cliché? It seemed a little too similar to ‘resiliency,’ but without the bite, the tenacity, the edge.

My disappointment subsided momentarily as the game began. That is, until Resiliency began to metaphorically take down Teamwork, resulting in the most tragic pro sports loss I’ve ever watched in real time.

It occurred to me a few weeks after the game, when I finally became accustomed to those annoying t-shirts that splashed our almost-perfect record across too many of my friends’ chests (New Yorkers, of course), that it’s resiliency that characterizes a great team—or at least makes the best stories.

Maybe that’s why the end of September is my favorite time of the year and such an integral part of the fall athletic season.

At Harvard and virtually every college across the country, teams have suffered tough losses, captured thrilling last-second victories, come out too flat, and thoroughly dismantled their competition. But what remains to be seen is which teams will become stronger, better for these experiences.

Starting now, in September, we get to watch hundreds of seasons unfold. And although no one knows for sure who will come out on top after the next month or so—will it be the football team from Cambridge or Providence that notches its first win of the season this coming weekend?—I’m confident it will be gritty, resilient teams that win tough matchups when others falter.

October, like September, is just a part of their story.

—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at

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