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No. 12 Field Hockey Rides Best Start in Program History into Penn, Bryant Duels

If last year’s performance is any indication, No. 12 Harvard (7-1, 1-0 Ivy League) should have no trouble overcoming the Pennsylvania Quakers (4-4, 1-0) this Saturday. However, as Crimson coach Tjerk van Herwaarden put it, the Quakers will “be absolutely ready to come at [Harvard]” following their 6-0 loss to the Crimson last season.

Harvard is coming off a four-game win streak, including last weekend’s 6-0 shutout against Yale. This marks the best start in the history of the Crimson’s field hockey program, the team having lost only one of eight games this season.

In the Bulldogs’ defeat to Harvard last Friday, junior forward Maddie Earle found twine toward the end of the second half, a shot that contributed to her four-goal weekend and title of National Offensive Player of the Week.

“I think being able to get two goals fairly early in the game really relieved us from the pressure and stress we were feeling,” van Herwaaden said. “It allowed us to grow into the match and really take control of the second half.”

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The Crimson’s rout of Yale handed Harvard its sixth straight series win against the Bulldogs, increasing its all-time record against its historic rival to 25-15-7.

“There was a certain level of excitement to that game, so to win in such an exciting fashion was huge,” captain Kathleen Young said. “We had an outstanding performance by Ellie Shahbo, our freshmen goalkeeper, and saw a lot of good scoring distribution. It was a real team effort.”

Each of the Crimson’s six goals against Yale were netted by different players, increasing Harvard’s scoreboard total this season to 30.

“One of the goals we set at the beginning of the season was to improve upon every game and not focus on outcome,” Young said. “As a team, I think we’ve really done that.”

After a mediocre start to their season, the Quakers seem to have found their groove. Penn has won two of its last three games, with its only loss coming against the No. 11 Syracuse Orangewomen.

“The one major result [Penn] had against Syracuse last week should really wake us up and force us to prepare… for a very strong performance on their part,” van Herwaarden said.

The Quakers’ offense is headed by senior Rachel Mirkin, who leads the team in scoring with three goals to the season. However, the Crimson’s Bente van Vlijmen has tossed eight between the posts, one of three on the squad to have netted a hat trick.

“I think we’re all very excited for Penn,” Young said. “It’s definitely going to be a good game, just as it has been the past couple of years. [Penn is] a tough opponent so we’re definitely preparing a lot this week.”

Sunday’s non-league matchup against the Bryant Bulldogs (2-8) will round out what Young called a “tough weekend” for the Crimson. In their own half of the field, the Bulldogs’ Marijn Jaarsma has seen the most time in the cage. Her two scoreless games are on par with the pair of shutouts earned by Harvard freshman goalkeeper Ellie Shahbo this season.

“[van Herwaarden] recruited an exceptional class, as always, of freshmen this year,” Young said. “Rachel Greenwood from England has had a big impact on our forward line, along with Kiley [Allen] back at midfield. And Ellie [Shahbo], of course, is playing really well in goal.”

A Sep. 25 poll by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association placed the Crimson at No. 12 in Division-I field hockey, an eight point increase from last week. Like last week, this ranking places Harvard at second in the Ivy League only to Princeton. Neither Penn nor Bryant made the top 25 of this week’s poll.

For Harvard to emerge from this weekend with its win streak intact, both its offense and defense will need to continue to adhere to the game-by-game mentality that van Herwaaden has preached throughout the season.

“For our team,” as Young put it, “the most important game is the next game.”

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