CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The Harvard women's soccer team stepped on the field in 2016 with a talented group of 20 returners and six freshmen, eager to return to the success previous seasons yielded: An Ivy League title and a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The 2016 Crimson opened the season at home against 10th-ranked Connecticut – a grudge match after succumbing late a year ago. A game filled with excitement and anticipation, the Huskies scored twice in the opening frame to take a 2-0 lead into the break. A 66th-minute goal by senior Rachel Garcia gave the Crimson life in the game, and a set piece five minutes later resulted in a shot that was cleared off the goal line by a Huskies defender. UConn went on to win 3-1 in the season opener.
Gaining some momentum before a four-game road trip, Harvard tallied back-to-back shutout victories over Army (1-0) and Central Connecticut State (3-0). In the two games combined, Harvard outshot its opponents, 33-8, and senior Margaret Purce was named the Ivy League Player of the Week with four total goals on the week.
Traveling to Louisville Sept. 4 and Boston College Sept. 7, Harvard fell to 2-3 on the season with a pair of losses, coming by 3-1 and 3-0 margins. Undeterred, Harvard improved to .500 with a 3-1 victory at Providence, spurred by goals from Purce, Garcia and sophomore Leah Mohammadi, and moved to 4-3 on the season with a 2-1 victory at New Hampshire a few days later courtesy of scores from seniors Joan Fleischman and Karly Zlatic. Returning home in its final pre-Ivy test, the Crimson flew past Villanova, 3-0, to extend the winning streak to three games. Purce, again, was named the Ivy Player of the Week.
A trip to Philadelphia kick-started the Ivy slate, with the Crimson walking away victorious after Purce slotted a penalty kick into the corner of a 1-0 victory. Seven days later, the Crimson came together for a 2-1 comeback victory against Yale, sparked by two goals in just over seven minutes by Purce and junior Caroline Chagares.
Three-straight draws in mid-October pushed the Crimson's unbeaten streak to eight games. Senior Lizzie Durack earned a shutout against Cornell, while Purce and Garcia both scored and assisted in a 2-2 deadlock with Boston University. Facing adversity late at Brown, a free kick from Mohammadi led to a flick from Purce towards the penalty spot, where Garcia was able to head the ball into the top left corner. Garcia was named the Ivy League Player of the Week for the performance.
Harvard trekked to Princeton Oct. 22 for its second in a three-game road trip, facing a team that halted its streak of Ivy championships the previous season. It took only three minutes for Zlatic to find the back of the net, heading the ball through a gap in the Princeton defense to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead. Senior Lizzie Durack stopped a season-high seven shots in goal, giving the Harvard defense its sixth shutout of the season. Zlatic was hailed as the Ivy League Player of the Week – Harvard's fourth award of the year.
Taking its talents on the road for the final time in Ivy play, the Crimson kicked off in Hanover amidst cold and rainy conditions against Dartmouth. Controlling possession and pace-of-play, Garcia gave Harvard a 1-0 lead after heading a corner kick from Mohammadi across the goal line. Starting the second half, Purce drove 40 yards with the ball, weaving between defenders to give Harvard an insurance goal in a 2-0 victory. With three points in the game, Garcia earned her second Ivy Player of the Week honor, and Harvard's third-straight award from the conference. With the triumph, Harvard moved into sole possession of first place in the Ivy League, one point ahead of the team it would face in its regular season finale.
Harvard entered its Saturday matchup with Columbia unbeaten in its last 10 outings, allowing only six goals over the 56-day stretch. 21 Crimson student-athletes had started a game in 2016 for Harvard- a team that could become just the seventh in program history to finish Ivy play unbeaten.