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In a year that saw some fantastic individual performances across all sports for Harvard, women’s soccer’s sophomore forward Ainsley Ahmadian took the crown.
With a team featuring two All-Americans, the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, two other First Team All-Ivy selections, and one Second-Team and Honorable Mention, the Crimson put up phenomenal individual performances every match — but Ahmadian’s two-goal thriller to lift Harvard above No. 17 North Carolina State (NC State) was the performance of the year.
The Crimson entered its fourth game of the season on Sept. 4 with a record of 3-0-0 (0-0-0 Ivy League), coming off a dominant 4-0 performance two days prior over UNC-Greensboro. Temperatures in the eighties would make for a grueling contest, not to mention the big home crowd atmosphere for NC State.
In soccer, no individual performance is possible without a strong team effort, and it was Harvard’s defensive line and sophomore midfielder Hannah Bebar who helped create the chances for Ahmadian to score. The Crimson held the Wolfpack — who averaged just under eleven shots per game the whole season — to just six shots all game, only two of which were on goal.
“Our defense and midfield were doing a great job of bringing the ball up with lots of energy throughout the first part of the first half,” Ahmadian said. “The mentality and fight they had to stop NC State’s top-level forwards was very motivational.”
Ahmadian credited the team’s decision-making and variety of attack to get good looks on goal. It was yet another Bebar-Ahmadian connection that netted the first strike of the match. The two Illinois natives have played together since the start of middle school, and it shows on the pitch. In the 31st minute, Bebar delivered a beautiful pass over a throng of Wolfpack players to Ahmadian about thirteen yards from goal, splitting the last two defenders before putting it home past NC State’s Maria Echezarreta.
Coming into the second half with some real momentum, it took Ahmadian just five minutes to silence the Wolfpack crowd and expand the cushion yet again. From over twenty-five yards out, she split the defense again and upon seeing an opening, fired a laser into the top-right corner, catching Echezarreta a bit off-guard and with no play on a save.
“I just saw a little bit of an opening and thought I would go for it, and it ended up working out,” said Ahmadian, perhaps downplaying the absurdity of the brilliant goal.
Ahmadian said head coach Chris Hamblin and the coaching staff were great in preparing the team both strategically and mentally for the early road trip, which certainly showed with its polished performance in just the fourth game of the year.
"They did a great job of not making things too complicated and just focusing on some of the key tactics in our defensive strategies, because we were going up against great offensive players, but also how we would break them down [offensively],” Ahmadian said.
“They also did a fantastic job of mentally preparing us,” she continued. “This was the hardest game that a lot of us have played in college soccer.”
The victory set the tone early for the Crimson, proving to itself and others that Harvard was going to be a threat this year. The match saw Harvard launch from unranked in the United Soccer Coaches top twenty-five poll to No. 20. The 2-0 away win was by far the biggest win of non-conference play, and rivaled if not beat out the 2-2 draw with No. 17 Texas Christian University on Sept. 17 for the most thrilling non-conference matchup.
“One of the things we talked about before the game was just making sure that we’re paying attention to all the details, all the little pieces that add up to a good performance,” said head coach Chris Hamblin back in September after the road trip. “I think the team executed incredibly well on both sides of the ball — I was really proud of how they took the challenge on against a top-25 team and made a statement.”
Harvard continued its success after the North Carolina road trip, finishing the season 12-2-3 (5-0-2 Ivy League), just narrowly losing the Ivy League title to Brown, but earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the second round, before losing a thriller to South Carolina.
This upcoming season, the Crimson will get another marquee matchup versus the Wolfpack — this time at home on Jordan Field, where Ahmadian and Harvard’s returning team will be ready yet again, this time joined by the talented new Class of 2027.
— Staff writer Zing Gee can be reached at email@example.com.
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