Harvard is ready for its 15th appearance all-time in the NCAA tournament. (Gil Talbot)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Advancing to its 15th NCAA tournament in program history, the Ivy League champion Harvard women's soccer team plays host to Central Connecticut St. Saturday for a 1 p.m. match at Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3.
Harvard (10-4-2) wrapped its conference slate with a 5-1-1 record to defend its 2013 title. The Crimson captured its 12th Ancient Eight crown and fifth over the last six years with a 2-1 win over Columbia on Senior Day Nov. 1.
Last Time Out
Margaret Purce tallied two points – her third multi-goal effort of the season – in Harvard's 2-1 win over Columbia. Emily Mosbacher and Bethany Kanten picked up the two assists on the afternoon, each with spectacular efforts; Mosbacher made a run up the left flank to find Purce in the box, who then one-timed it into the back of the net. In the late stages of the game, Kanten took a 30-yard free kick, where Purce redirected it to the near post for the winning score.
This marks the fifth NCAA appearance for head coach Ray Leone. Harvard made the tournament last season, when the Crimson met Boston University and dropped a 1-0 result in the first round. This is the first time in four tries that the Crimson has not faced a Boston-area team in the NCAA tournament (BU in 2011, BC in 2009 and Northeastern in 2008).
Harvard vs. CCSU, All-Time
Harvard and Central Connecticut St. will see each other for the 11th time on Saturday, with the Crimson holding a 7-2-1 record over the Blue Devils. The two clubs have met once before in the NCAA tournament, a 4-1 Harvard victory in the first round on Nov. 11, 1998 – Coincidentally that was the only contest between the two that did not involve a shutout.
Last season, Harvard went to New Britain to claim a 2-0 victory on Sept. 29. Emily Mosbacher opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a header off a Peyton Johnson corner kick, followed by an unassisted tally from Margaret Purce in the 62nd minute of action. In net, Lizzie Durack picked up four saves to earn her second win of the season.
Scouting CCSU (11-5-4, 4-2-2 NEC)
Central Connecticut State is fresh off its eighth NEC championship as the Blue Devils took care of Fairleigh Dickenson with ease, 2-0. Eight of its 11 wins have come by way of shutout this season, a testament to the hard-nosed back line and the stellar play of goalkeeper Nikki Turley. Turley has turned in a 0.91 GAA, while making 68 saves on the season (.791) in 19 starts. She has accounted for six of the eight CCSU clean sheets.
Offensively, the Blue Devils are led by senior Tori Sousa and sophomore Kelly Halligan. Sousa owns a team-high 20 points this year, and has spread them evenly with seven goals and six assists. Halligan has been a machine as well, piling up five goals and six assists in 18 games played. Six other Blue Devils have found the back of the net this season, led by Alysa Christo's four tallies and Julie Lavoie's three.
Ancient Eight Accolades
Following its Ancient Eight crown, the Harvard women's soccer team placed seven student-athletes on three All-Ivy League teams, the conference announced Tuesday. Dani Stollar was named the League's Rookie of the Year, while head coach Ray Leone, now in his eighth season at the helm, was honored as the Ivy League Coach of the Year.
Highlighting the All-Ivy teams were three Crimson as sophomore Margaret Purce, senior co-captain Meg Casscells-Hamby and junior Alika Keene earned First Team nods. Bailey Gary was named to the Second Team, while Stollar – Harvard's second consecutive Rookie of the Year – drew Honorable Mention accolades along with junior Haley Washburn and senior Erika Garcia.
The Crimson holds a 23-6-7 home record since moving to Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium The two losses this year were tight matches as Harvard dropped a 1-0 decision early to Colgate (35th-highest RPI in the nation) and a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston University. The Crimson was decidedly in both contests, as it was in its two draws at home, against UMass (0-0) and Yale (0-0).
Find a Way
In its 10 wins this season, Harvard is averaging 2.6 goals per game, including five-goal bursts twice (vs. LIU-Brooklyn and Princeton). The Crimson attack has been potent at times with the likes of Purce (8g, 2a), Casscells-Hamby (3g, 4a) and Mosbacher (4g, 2a) leading the way. The play of the midfield has been key, with Haley Washburn acting as a lynchpin in transition and in keeping the ball in the offensive third.
Back Line, Strong Line
The Harvard defenders have been remarkable this season in keeping opponents at bay. Harvard owns a .797 goals against average, and is led in the back by Alika Keene and Bailey Gary, both of whom have started every contest this season as a tandem. The consistent play of co-captain Marie Margolius, as well as senior Erika Garcia and freshmen Mia Bladin and Marie Becker, has kept attacks in check for much of the year.
Keeping it Clean
Another part of the .797 GAA is the play of the two keepers between the posts. Lizzie Durack and Cheta Emba have been a stout keeper tandem all season long. Emba's .824 save percentage and 0.67 goals against average puts her in the top four among all Ivy keepers, while Durack has been steady with a .714 save percentage and a 0.91 goals against average. Together, the two have combined to help Harvard to nine clean sheets this year.
Head Coach Ray Leone
In his eighth season at the helm of Harvard, Ray Leone has led the Crimson to a 81-41-16 overall record, including 39 wins in Ivy League play. Leone has guided Harvard to five Ivy titles, including a perfect 7-0 mark in 2013 – the first unblemished conference tally since 1999 – and the 2014 title.
Around The Tourney
Two of Harvard's 16 opponents this season are among the 64 teams in this year's NCAA tournament. The Crimson posted a 1-1 record against these two opponents, defeating New Hampshire, 1-0 in double overtime, and falling to Boston University, 2-1 in double overtime.
Breaking It Down
When Harvard scores, it's not going down easy. The Crimson is 9-1 overall when scoring first, and 1-0 when its opponents find the back of the net first. The Crimson has been shutout just five times, twice coming on 0-0 draws.
Nine of Harvard's 16 matches have been decided by one goal or have ended in a draw.
All five healthy freshmen Crimson have played at least four games this season, with four of them earning at least two starts. Both Dani Stollar (the Ivy League Rookie of the Year) and Mia Bladin have registered their first points, with Stollar amounting three goals and Bladin one. The freshman and sophomore class combined has attributed 13 goals and two assists, led by Purce's eight goals and two assists.
The Crimson own a diverse roster led by seven seniors. The rest of the classes break down into five juniors, eight sophomores and six freshmen. A majority of the team hails from California (9), with 11 states and three countries represented.
The winner of Harvard and CCSU will advance to face either No. 1 UCLA or San Diego in the second round Nov. 21.