“Any time there’s an Ivy League game, it’s like an NCAA tournament game, it’s a knockout type game,” said Crimson head coach Chris Hamblin.
Harvard dropped its first two games of the season against California and San Francisco respectively, but then regained its balance to win three out of the next five before facing Penn to open Ivy League play. The game against the Quakers was a slugfest, with defense taking center stage. Even overtime could not separate the two teams as the match concluded in a 0-0 draw.
Regardless of their sub-.500 record to this point, the Crimson has much to be pleased with.
“I think we’ve had different ups and downs throughout the season and I think what’s impressed me is that regardless of whether we were at a high... or we were at a low… everyone has stayed really bought in to the process, to the system,” co-captain midfielder Zayne Matulis said.
Furthermore, Harvard’s roster is a youthful one—the team added 10 freshman to its ranks and welcomed back seven sophomores. Many of these players found themselves thrust into large roles from the get go, and they responded nicely, keeping a clean sheet in each of their three victories and adding another against the Quakers.
The contributions of several upperclassmen have been crucial to the success of the team as well. Co-captain midfielder Leah Mohammadi leads the group in scoring with four goals, and senior goalkeeper Danielle Etzel has started between the sticks in seven out of the eight games thus far. Having said that, possibly their most important contribution is one that does not appear on the stat sheet.
“I think the upperclassmen did a really good job welcoming in those younger players and making them feel comfortable so they can be themselves,” Hamblin explained.
It is this supportive culture that breeds team unity and progress. The group might not be firing on all cylinders quite yet, but the environment will go a long way towards helping them achieve their goals.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, find themselves with a winning record heading into this weekend’s competition. After a mediocre start to their campaign, Yale ripped off four consecutive wins before hosting Princeton in New Haven. The Bulldogs could not, however, keep up with the Tigers, who secured a 3-0 victory with two second half goals.
Nonetheless, the statistics reveal that Yale boasts a balanced attack, as four players have scored at least two goals. Even so, the Crimson will do well to keep an eye on junior midfielder Noelle Higginson, who has three goals and five assists to her name.
In the books, the result of this weekend’s game is weighted just as equally as any other, and the squad knows that.
“I think we approach every game the same regardless of who we’re playing,” Matulis said. “At the end of the day we just have to be focused on us.”
This may be true, but come Saturday there will certainly be an extra bit of excitement and energy in the air at Jordan Field in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard-Yale is always more than just a normal game. Each student-athlete will be eager to write the next chapter in this fabled rivalry, and historically speaking, this game should be exhilarating to watch.
Four out of the last five regular season meetings between the Crimson and the Bulldogs have featured at least three goals. Both squads will be fighting for pride and that ever-so-important first conference win.
“I think for us to get a win and a strong performance against Yale, that will give us momentum moving forward… to really have a springboard into the rest of the Ivy League,” Hamblin said.
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