Harvard is ready for its 15th appearance all-time in the NCAA tournament. (Gil Talbot)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Following its thorough 6-0 victory over Central Connecticut State on Saturday, the Harvard women's soccer team is geared up to face the No. 1 team in the nation in the NCAA Tournament second round this weekend. The Ivy League champion Crimson (11-4-1, 5-1-1) has the test of facing unbeaten, defending national champion UCLA (19-0-2, 10-0-1) in Los Angeles. The two clubs will kick off at 8 p.m. local time, 11 p.m. on the east coast. This is the first meeting between the two programs.
Last Time Out
In its first round matchup with Central Connecticut State, Harvard erupted for six points, routing the Blue Devils, 6-0. Both Margaret Purce and Emily Mosbacher scored twice, while Dani Stollar – the Ivy League Rookie of the Year – added a score just 24 seconds into the contest and Laura Aguilar capped things off with just over 20 minutes left in the game.
This marks the fifth NCAA appearance for head coach Ray Leone during his tenure in Cambridge. Harvard made the tournament last season, when the Crimson met Boston University and dropped a 1-0 result in the first round. This marks the first time since 2001 that the Crimson has advanced past the first round, having been knocked out the previous five tournaments.
Home is Golden
Though the two schools are over 2,500 miles apart as the crow flies, Harvard's trip west to Los Angeles marks a return to home for nine Crimson on the 2014 roster: Laura Aguilar (San Diego), Brook Dickens (Bakersfield), Maura Duggan (Poway), Bailey Gary (Davis), Candy Janachowski (Mill Valley), Gabby Kaplan (Emerald Hills), Emily Mosbacher (Woodside), Haley Washburn (Folsom) and Karly Zlatic (La Jolla) hail from the Golden State.
Last season Harvard played in the USF Tournament hosted by the University of San Francisco to open the season, facing California and the host Dons.
Perhaps the most dominant team in the NCAA of late, the Bruins come into the weekend second round matchup on a roll. After its 5-0 drubbing of San Diego in the first round, the 2013 national champion UCLA is riding a 42-game unbeaten streak and has held opponents off the board for the last 862 minutes (eight-plus games). During the eight-game stretch, the Bruins have outscored opponents 31-0. In 2014, UCLA has outscored the opposition 59-4, allowing goals to Wake Forest (W, 2-1), Loyola Marymount (W, 4-1), Arizona State (T, 1-1) and Stanford (W, 2-1); the only team to hold UCLA scoreless was North Carolina in a 0-0 draw on Aug. 29 in LA.
The catalyst for the Bruin attack is striker Sam Mewis, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, who has 42 points on the season off 15 goals and 12 assists. Right behind Mewis sits a talented offense, including five other Bruins who have tallied at least five goals this year, including Sarah Killion (7g, 10a), Taylor Smith (8g, 5a), Rosie White (6g, 5a), Kylie McCarthy (6g, 2a) and Darian Jenkins (5g, 2a). Seventeen (17) Bruins have tallied at least a point on the season, including seven with double-digit outputs.
Equally as impressive is UCLA's defense anchored by Pac-12 Defender of the Year, Abby Dahlkemper, and Goaltender of the Year Katelyn Rowland. The Bruins are holding opponents to a measly 0.37 shot percentage, allowing just 49 attempts on goal. Rowland, however, has padded away 45 of those for a .918 save percentage, while accumulating a respectable 0.19 GAA with her four scores against.
Find a Way
In its 11 wins this season, Harvard is averaging three goals per game, including five-goal bursts three times -- vs. LIU-Brooklyn (W, 5-0), Princeton (W, 5-4) and CCSU (W, 6-0). The Crimson attack has been potent at times with the likes of Purce (10g, 2a), Casscells-Hamby (3g, 4a) and Mosbacher (6g, 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 0.79 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 0.79 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 0.65 goals against average puts her in the top four among all Ivy keepers, while Durack has been steady with a .750 save percentage and a 0.81 goals against average. Together, the two have combined to help Harvard to 10 clean sheets this year.
Breaking It Down
When Harvard scores, it's not going down easy. The Crimson is 10-1 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.
All five healthy freshmen Crimson have played at least five 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 15 goals and two assists, led by Purce's 10 goals and two helpers.
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 UCLA will advance to face either Illinois State or No. 4-seed Pepperdine on Sunday.