During its recent stretch of conference games, the No. 18 Harvard women’s water polo team has not led much. It held a brief 1-0 lead against Princeton on Sunday, but trailed wire-to-wire against Indiana and Michigan en route to dropping all three games.
Wednesday evening’s match on the road against unranked Brown was supposed to be a bit of a reprieve for the Crimson after facing three of the top teams in the CWPA poll.
For the first three periods, however, the Bears held Harvard’s offense in check, holding onto a 7-5 lead and needing just eight more minutes to pull off the upset.
Three quarters of being behind on the scoreboard, however, sparked the Crimson to a four-goal fourth-quarter rally that included the power-play game-winner with 50 seconds left to finally give the visitors its long-sought lead. Harvard (20-7, 1-3 CWPA) held on to the slim margin to capture its first conference victory, 9-8, over Brown (9-20, 1-3) at the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center.
Two-meter Melissa Balding completed the comeback with the tying score with 3:01 remaining in the fourth, and attacker Michelle Martinelli capped it off with the game-winner a couple of possessions later, taking advantage of an ejection drawn earlier in the possession by Balding.
“Brown was staying back, so we couldn’t just fake and shoot it into the goal, so we really had to use our reads,” captain Yoshi Andersen said. “Michelle was able to find a hole from the 4-5 side and just gave it her all and got it in there.”
Freshman attacker Kristen Hong led the way with four goals during the game, including two straight that transformed an 8-5 deficit with just minutes left in the game to a more manageable 8-7 score.
“I think we started off the game a little slow, but with our hard work and persistence we were able to come back at it,” Hong said. “I don’t think at any point in the game we ever felt that we couldn’t win the game, and I think that mentality was a big part of the reason we were able to put together a rally.”
Hong’s scores were instrumental in igniting the Crimson attack and added to her total of 63 goals on the season. Her performance came on the heels of three scoreless individual outings in Michigan.
On the other side of the pool, opposing rookie Carmen Rosas also tallied four goals in the contest. Sophomore goalie Marisol Dakan made 10 saves as part of a defensive effort that saw Harvard go scoreless in the first period and remain without a lead until the final minute of the game.
Being behind on the scoreboard was no monumental problem for the players in Crimson, however.
“Our strong bond as a team and our knowledge that we all had each other’s back, both offensively and defensively, helped us get through high-pressure situations,” Andersen said. “Our defense is always very strong, and it definitely helped us out in the last minutes of the game.”
Sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington posted five saves on the night. Senior attacker Charlotte Hendrix finished with two goals, as did Balding, who drew the ejection on the winning possession.
Harvard, even as favorites heading into the matchup, is still only 2-6 against the Bears over the last four years.
Brown figures to not be a power player in the running for a CWPA championship this year, but has always been a worthy adversary for the Crimson to grapple with.
“I think [the win] was huge for us, both for conference play and in general,” Andersen said. “It’s always great to win those rivalry games.”
With its 20th win of the season, Harvard has tied its single-season record for most wins. However, with three games left on its regular-season schedule, the Crimson is looking for more.
“In terms of conference play, we’re hoping that this will allow us [to be] ranked in the top five,” Andersen said. “We’re definitely going to have to finish our games this weekend. Nothing’s really said and done until we take care of business.”
Staff writer Bryan Hu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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