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Soccer Star Hannah Bebar Commits to Duke For Last Year of NCAA Eligibility

Hannah Bebar, the Crimson star who will take her talents to Duke next year, approaches the ball in a game against Maine last fall.
Hannah Bebar, the Crimson star who will take her talents to Duke next year, approaches the ball in a game against Maine last fall. By Katharine M. Shin

For as long as Hannah Bebar can remember, she has been an avid soccer player. So upon finishing her senior season for the Harvard women’s soccer team, the midfielder was not ready to hang up her cleats. Growing up in Naperville, Ill., Bebar played a variety of sports with her three siblings, including soccer. She jokes that her sister and brothers were always competitive with each other while practicing, which drove them to excel as athletes. That perpetual search for competitive excellence is part of what pushed Bebar to find a new outlet for her passion on the turf: a fifth year as a graduate student transfer playing soccer for the Duke Blue Devils.

“I kind of always knew that soccer would be a big part of my life,” Bebar reflected. “Even from a very young age.”

Bebar’s prowess on the field showed early on, as she was called up to her first U.S. national camp while playing Under-15s. She traveled from Illinois to Carson, Calif., to train with other elite players her age from all over the country. Excelling under the athletic pressure, Bebar continued to climb her way up the soccer ladder. During her junior year of high school, Bebar earned a spot on the U-17 national team for the World Cup held in Uruguay. Although the American team did not find much success in the actual tournament, Bebar and her teammates had the opportunity to face off against international opponents including Cameroon and Germany.

“The difference in the game on the international level really helped me grow as a player,” Bebar said. “The tournament motivated me to try to translate the competitive international side of soccer into a college environment.”

While undergoing the college commitment process, Hannah was ranked as high as the No. 1 recruit in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. She earned many other accolades, including the title of a three-time club All-American, and was crowned as an Illinois State Champion. When the opportunity to play for Harvard arose, she took it, choosing to pursue a path of rigorous soccer and rigorous academics. Although Bebar certainly appreciates the Crimson’s intense soccer program, she equally values the community and academic opportunities that Harvard offers. When she decided to officially commit to Harvard, she explains that it “just kind of felt like home.”

“Meeting people who are very different and don’t have the same background as me has helped me grow as a person,” Bebar explained. “The community at Harvard is very unique and it has been really cool to meet people that I would have never crossed paths with in both athletics and academics.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ivy League completely canceled its athletic programming in 2020, which precluded what was expected to be an intensely competitive soccer season. The pandemic restrictions delivered a devastating blow for fall athletes, including Bebar and her fellow freshmen. Other leagues still managed to have modified soccer seasons, yet Harvard and the other Ancient Eight schools were notoriously strict in their prohibition of athletic events. For Bebar, this was crushing, as she was itching to kick off her collegiate soccer career. In response to the pandemic closures, Bebar decided to take her freshman spring semester off to train and improve her soccer skills away from Cambridge. She spent the spring training with the women’s professional team in Chicago, the Red Stars, honing her skills for her eventual NCAA debut.

“My first season getting canceled may have been a blessing in disguise,” Bebar said. “I was able to train in a really, really great environment, and surround myself with professionals every day. I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity had I had a more traditional linear path.”

For Bebar and the Harvard soccer team, the cancellation of the 2020 season posed an entirely new challenge. During preseason for the 2021 season, the coaching staff and upperclassmen had to work to orient the new players, who now made up more than half of their team, to the competitive expectations of college play. Despite the adjustment, Bebar explained how she and her teammates were all just incredibly grateful to be there and to have the opportunity to travel and play games together.

“We just took everything in stride and did our best to embrace the moments,” Bebar stated. “We all came together to create a very great style of play and had a lot of fun.”

During her first season in a Crimson jersey, Bebar won Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was unanimously named as a first-team All-Ivy honoree, and was also impressively ranked fifth nationally in assists per game (.67). Despite it being her first season playing collegiate soccer, Bebar led the Ivy League in assists (10) as well as shots on goal per game (2.07), helping to power the Harvard team to a winning 12-3-1 season.

After losing by one goal against Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2021, the Crimson, led by Bebar, was determined to have an even more successful season in 2022. The following year, the Harvard team went 5-0-2 in the competitive Ivy League and 12-2-3 overall.

Bebar had a phenomenal season, despite it being cut short due to a knee injury. As one of only 15 players in the country to be named a MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalist, she earned the title of College Soccer News Second Team All-American, first-team All-ECAC, and first-team All-American. Bebar also led the Crimson in points (20), assists (80), and shots on goal (24). The team continued its hot streak, seeing success in the postseason and earning a home-field advantage in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014. After beating New Hampshire at home in the first round 2-0, the Crimson fell just short in the second round of the tournament against No. 13 University of South Carolina, 3-2.

In her junior season, her final season with Ivy League eligibility due to her gap year, Bebar and the Crimson truly excelled. The Harvard team recorded an impressive 13-4-2 season overall. The Crimson won the Inaugural Ivy League Tournament, claiming dominant victories over both Princeton and Columbia. The team continued its success in the NCAA postseason, securing the home-field advantage for the first round in the tournament against the University of Maine. Unfortunately, in a contest that would mirror the team’s 2022 endeavor, as the team made it to the second round but lost a close 1-0 battle against Michigan State to end its season.

Throughout her final season in Cambridge, Bebar carried on her impressive streak of accolades, earning first-team All-Ivy League, United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-East Region, CSC Academic All-District, and a spot on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. Bebar started and played in all 19 games. She concluded her Harvard career ranked 11th in program history with 59 points, an especially impressive accomplishment given that her truncated career played out over just three seasons.

“It was a huge thing for us just to be able to compete on a higher stage and bring this program to a point where that should be the standard,” Bebar said as she reflected on her and her teammates’ impact on the Harvard soccer program. “I have loved my time here, I’ve loved playing, and I am so lucky to have gotten the chance to be a part of such an amazing team and program.”

Bebar attributes her and her teams’ success to the camaraderie shared between all of her teammates. She explained how the graduating captains Anna Karpenko and Ava Lung truly cared about every aspect of each girl on the team and praised upcoming 2024 season captains Jade Rose, Josefine Hasbo, and Sydney Farnham for their leadership skills. (Bebar and Farnham are both Crimson Sports Editors).

“How grateful I am to Harvard soccer, especially to the girls on the team,” said Bebar. “They have been such a great group of players, and more importantly a great group of humans and people.”

Bebar will now head to Durham, N.C., where she will play her final season of eligibility for the Blue Devils. Duke is picking up six new transfer players, including Bebar, recruited by Head Coach Robbie Church. The Blue Devils play in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, which boasts several high-achieving women's soccer programs, including No. 1 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson. Up against these powerhouses, Duke struggled last season, notching an overall record of 6-7-3. The team will benefit greatly from the influx of new talent, headlined by Bebar.

Fans who followed Bebar’s illustrious Crimson career can watch her take the field for Duke in its opening game against Ohio State on August 15, where she will start the next chapter of her inspiring soccer journey.

—Staff writer Isabel C. Smail can be reached at isabel.smail@thecrimson.com.

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