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Harvard Women's Soccer Heads into Home Stretch of Regular Season

Then-junior defender Smith Hunter prepares for a swift kick in the Crimson's Nov. 5, 2022 game against Columbia. It defeated the Lions 5-0.
Then-junior defender Smith Hunter prepares for a swift kick in the Crimson's Nov. 5, 2022 game against Columbia. It defeated the Lions 5-0. By Zing Gee
By Nghia L. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

After an exciting start to the season, Harvard women’s soccer team began its Ivy League season with a match-up against one of its top rivals for the trophy: Brown (8-1-2). Although the Crimson did not achieve its desired result during that game, the team went on to sweep the opposition for three consecutive matches against conference opponents Columbia (7-2-3), Dartmouth (7-1-4), and Cornell (3-3-5) to earn a conference record of 3-1. Scoring nine goals — while only conceding three (with two shutouts against Columbia and Dartmouth) — the Crimson is shaping up to be a formidable collective heading into the home stretch of the season and the Ivy League Championships later next month.

HARVARD v. BROWN, 0-2

The Ivy League season began for Harvard on its familiar home grounds of Jordan Field, where it faced an impressive visiting team from Brown. Coming into the season, Brown was the top-ranked team in the Ivy League after winning the Ivy title last year.

Under an intense rain in Cambridge, the two teams eked out a close battle, which showed the strengths of both Ivy powerhouses.

Harvard got the first chance in the 10th minute of the game when first-year forward Ólöf Kristinsdóttir tried to land a half-volley in the box towards the goal following a Crimson free kick. The Crimson dominated the first half, earning both more possession and shots than the opposition.

However, during the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Crimson defense broke down and let Brown score two goals back-to-back. In the 52nd minute, Brown was awarded a free kick from right outside the box and Sheyenne Allen’s shot went over the wall and into the goal, despite senior goalkeeper Anna Karpenko’s best effort.

Seven minutes later, Allen headed in a second goal for the Bears from a corner kick. Though the Crimson put up a valiant effort, netting impressive chances like a curved shot from far-range by first-year midfielder Írena Héðinsdóttir Gonzalez in the 57th minute, which the Brown goalkeeper barely tipped over the goal and denying additional goals from Brown with great saves from Karpenko.

“It’s never fun losing, especially to one of our biggest competitors,” reflected junior midfielder Hannah Bebar. “We obviously started with a loss but we got good things away from that game. I think we battled through the full 90 minutes — we fell short in a couple of areas but we learned a lot”.

HARVARD v. COLUMBIA, 2-0

During its first Ivy away game of the season, the Crimson traveled to New York City, N.Y. to face off against Columbia, looking to recover from back-to-back losses. Going into the game, it had a record 8-0-2 against the Lions in its past ten matchups, and the Crimson’s confidence was shown right from the opening whistle.

On its first chance of the game, Harvard opened the scoreline when senior defender Smith Hunter got a ball in the right wing, ran up close to the touchline, and delivered a cross into the box for Hannah Bebar. Bebar bounced the ball back to senior midfielder/forward Ava Lung, who struck a rapid shot into the right corner of the goal. Reflecting on this particular moment of the game, Bebar said that Hunter “had an insane touch off a long ball, then beat the defender to play a really good cross into the box.”

Five minutes later, from a similar wing attack by junior defender Jade Rose, the Columbia defense was caught sleeping when it failed to close down Beber, who used the space to pick her spot, receive the ball from junior midfielder Josephine Hasbo, and send the ball sailing past the goalkeeper.

“I think we started very strong,” Bebar said. “We got two goals within 15 minutes, so I think we just brought the energy and then maintained it throughout the rest of the game.”

Bebar also credited the win to Harvard’s defense which blocked Columbia from scoring any shots on goal during the first half and kept a shutout thanks to effective defensive plays and goalkeeping saves.

“Our goalkeeper has been stellar in training and I think that shows when we trust them throughout playing out back, so huge props for her,” she added.

HARVARD v. DARTMOUTH, 3-0

Coming back to the familiar turf of Jordan Field, Harvard welcomed Dartmouth, who entered the game as one of only nine remaining unbeaten teams in the nation and one of only three programs who had not conceded a first-half goal. The Big Green’s excellent first-half defending was true to this, holding up against the Crimson’s dominant play (11 shots in the first 44 minutes, including five on goal, and 72% possession). This included senior midfielder/forward Gabby DelPico’s three shots on goal, one of which was tipped over the bar by the Dartmouth keeper.

While everyone thought the first half would end with no goal being scored, the Crimson broke the deadlock with an absolute screamer. From a cross by Rose, first-year forward Jasmine Leshnick calmly controlled the ball and executed a beautiful bicycle kick, which ricocheted off the bar into the goal.

“With like 12 seconds left [in the half], Jasmine just whips out this insane bike,” Bebar said, “And when it actually went in, we just freaked out. She’s just such an energetic, fun player to play with and so her getting a goal like that, such a big moment as a freshman is very hype. I’m so happy for her.” This impressive goal was later featured as number one in the top ten plays of the day on ESPN’s SportsCenter and retweeted by Bleacher Report Football’s X account.

After the restart, the Big Green’s defense once again posed a challenge to Harvard’s forwards, denying successive shots from Bebar and Lung. The Crimson finally found the back of the net again in the 73rd minute. From a wing attack, senior defender Taylor Fasnacht and first-year midfielder/defender Susie Long set up an opportunity for Bebar from outside the box. She curled in a long-range shot that went right up to the top corner of Dartmouth’s goal, marking her 50th career point.

Three minutes later, sophomore forward Audrey Francois got away from three Dartmouth marking defenders in the box to transform a cross from Hasbo into a goal, which sealed the Crimson’s victory and the second place on the Ivy table.

HARVARD v. CORNELL, 3-1

After two successive wins, Harvard made the 6-hour trip out to Ithaca, N.Y. to face Cornell. On a rainy and wet day, the match started slowly, with both teams failing to make any remarkable chances due to great defenses. The Crimson’s best first-half chance came in the 38th minute when the Cornell keeper denied two successive close-range shots by sophomore defender August Hunter and forward Audrey Francois.

After the break, Harvard went on the offensive, dominating play in the attacking third with Bebar having three shots saved by the Cornell keeper. The Crimson finally opened the score in the 62nd minute with a Jasmine Leshnick free kick just outside the box, which bounced down from the bar and into the net. Six minutes later, Kristinsdóttir dribbled through two Big Red defenders to net a shot past the keeper from close range. The Crimson piled on a third goal in the 78th minute with Francois scoring from the edge of the box with an assist from Rose. Despite a late Cornell goal against the run of play, which ended Harvard’s 294-minute scoreless streak, the Crimson came out on top and brought home the three points.

“We didn’t start as strong as we wanted to, but again a big moment from Jasmine on the freekick at the beginning of the second half helped propel us to score two more and come out with the win. It wasn’t our best performance but it shows that this team is willing to put in the work when it gets hard, so overall it was a good trip,” Bebar reflected.

Hasbo (4G, 6A), and Kristinsdóttir (6G, 2A) currently lead the team in points with 14 each, followed closely by DelPico with 13 points (4G, 5A) and Bebar with 12 points (4G, 4A). Harvard will look to continue its three-game winning streak when it hosts Princeton for a game that will decide the second place in the Ivy rankings.

“Princeton is always very a hard team to play because they play a very similar style of soccer that we do, and I think that we are vying for a high spot on the table, going into hopefully the Ivy League tournament,” Bebar reflected. “It is our alumni weekend and our featured game so I think there’s a lot of hype around the game. It’s just calming our nerves, and trusting our teammates all across the board to get us through a hard game”.

“Again, we will need to bring the energy we brought to the last couple of games in order to have success,” she concluded.

Harvard will face Princeton this Saturday, Oct. 14th at 4:00 p.m. EST on Jordan Field. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
— Staff writer Nghia L. Nguyen can be reached at nghia.nguyen@thecrimson.com.

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