With only five games left in the regular season, No. 15 Harvard field hockey is making moves towards another Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament run. The Crimson has toppled two of their Ivy League rivals thus far, Penn and Yale, leaving three schools to go over the next few weeks.
“The skill level difference or tenant difference that might be on each team certainly has less impact on the game because the energy and the proud school colors, so to speak, take over in these games,” head coach Tjerk van Herwaarden said.
This weekend, Harvard will travel to Hanover, N.H. to take on Dartmouth. Around this time last year, the Crimson defeated the Big Green 4-0, marking their seventh straight win against the team. Though the odds seem to be in Harvard’s favor, it is worth noting the increase in competitiveness brought to these Ivy League games given the reputation of Harvard as the reigning Ivy League champions and 2021 Final Four contenders.
“[Dartmouth] will still go all out to get the win, to defend their colors, to defend their school,” van Herwaarden commented. “It brings a different level of energy and I think that’s something we bring as well knowing that we have a level to play for…it makes for exciting games.”
Perhaps the toughest Ivy team to beat will be Princeton. Harvard and Princeton are arguably the two best teams in Ivy League field hockey, splitting Ivy titles over the course of 2016-2019. Last year, Harvard earned a well-fought 2-1 victory over the Quakers after a penalty shootout in overtime, granting them their championship name.
Though the anticipation of their contest against Princeton is building, this overtime win was one of the most memorable in the team’s history. On this same note, Harvard has historically tended to dominate in overtime scenarios. With three already this season, and two being double overtime situations, the Crimson has won all of them. Even last year, Harvard found itself in six overtime situations. The team won all five but lost the last against reigning NCAA champions Northwestern in the Final Four game, in which they put a point on the board. Despite this, they still posted two impressive shutouts and overtime wins against No. 6 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan in the tournament.
Just this weekend, the Crimson tallied another double overtime win against the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in a feisty 2-1 battle. With goals from junior Siofra Murdoch and first-year Bronte-May Brough and stellar defense of the net by senior Ellie Shahbo, the netted rebound from Murdoch after a stop by the River Hawk’s goalie from a shot from Brough lifted the Crimson past UMass Lowell.
“With the power from Bronte or Siofra Murdoch we can hurt their penalty corners,” the head coach said. “I think that has improved this past season.”
In these overtime situations, Harvard has a more controlled approach as opposed to overrunning it very quickly and rushing towards the net.
“When the overtime goes down to seven people, we have a lot of quality people to choose from, so I think that’s the first thing that plays a big factor in being able to dominate them,” van Herwaarden reflected.
“I think we have a lot of hockey IQ or hockey intellect on the field, so we play very smart,” the coach continued. “The space that you give up is so huge and can be so dangerous, that we tend to be very patient and disciplined in how we play these overtime scenarios.”
The Crimson have also been scoring more easily this year in comparison to last, marking improvement in their offense given their reputation for being one of the top defensive teams in field hockey.
“I think that the broadness and depth of our forward line has been tremendous so far this year,” van Herwaarden noted. “Building the growth from our midfield to forward line, with the forward line being a little smarter in their connection all together, I think it has increased over the last couple of weeks and that shows in the number of goals.”
In their recent 4-0 triumph against Yale, Harvard scored easier in the first half, but had difficulty scoring in their game against UMass Lowell on Sunday.
“If we want to be successful in the postseason we cannot let that happen, you know prepare for every game as if it’s your last one,” the head coach said.
“I think that will be our mindset for the next couple of games…if we do that, the best is yet to come.”
Another tough but fruitful game for Harvard was against No. 9 St. Joseph’s in the torrential downpour. The Crimson only lost 1-0 given the harsh conditions and expeceptional offense from the Hawks.
“St. Joseph’s was a really great game for us…we knew that they score easily and have a very stellar defense,” van Herwaarden said. “It’s great to play those types of games to see how we match up with them.”
“I felt we were dominating 60-70% of the game especially between the 25 yard lines so at midfield we were more in control. The way we played, the way we controlled most of the game was actually very positive.”
The recent loss against St. Joseph’s, domination against the Yale bulldogs, and a mighty win over the UMass Lowell River Hawks have boosted Harvard’s confidence and kept them en route towards another successful end of season push.
Next up, Harvard will hit the road to Big Green territory for more Ivy play on Friday afternoon at 3:00 PM EST. On Sunday, it will host Delaware at 12:00 PM on Berylson Field in Cambridge, MA.
— Staff writer Mairead B. Baker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @baker_mairead.