Consecutive weekends of back-to-back wins bumped Harvard field hockey to No. 12 in the country. Exciting victories over Columbia and Bucknell, and then against the University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire the following weekend brought the team’s overall win-loss tally to 9-1, marking an incredible start to the season.
The squad’s first few weeks are doubly impressive coming off a year-long break and a cancelled 2020 season. For 10 of the 25 team members, this is their first competitive season with the Crimson, and for many of the returning members, it has been over a year since playing field hockey for Harvard. Settling into the team dynamic has been exciting for returning and new members alike.
“Our team has a very strong bond and a very good team environment,” said senior co-captain Hannah Pearce. “It’s been really fun to get back to playing after such a long break, [and] it’s been great to be back with [everyone] and be playing hockey again.”
Coach Tjerk Van Harwaarden also shared his thoughts on the Crimson’s return to the field. “We picked up and kept doing what we were doing before COVID – winning games, building this program and building as a team, and to that extent I think we’re doing really well,” said Van Harwaarden.
Despite the extended departure from a fixed training regimen, the team was able to come back physically and mentally prepared for the 2021 season. During the pandemic, the squad was scattered, some players taking leaves of absence while others engaged in online school or work. However, everyone displayed admirable diligence and commitment to preparing for a hopeful return.
“They knew what was necessary to do while they weren’t on campus and they did it,” said Van Harwaarden. “Everybody focused hard on the fitness component and I think that is showing right now in some of the games… Last weekend against Columbia we were able to outplay our opponent significantly in the fourth quarter just because of our fitness level.”
The decisive 4-1 win over Columbia was undoubtedly a highlight of the season so far. The team is striving for its sixth Ivy League championship title this year, and the Columbia and Penn games were both promising and confidence-boosting.
“Obviously our [first Ivy League] win was a big thing for us, that’s our conference, it’s a tournament that we want to win, so coming off of that first game with a win against Columbia was a really great experience,” said Pearce.
Pearce, who spent her past year playing with the South African women’s national field hockey team in an Olympic bid, has been a defensive powerhouse alongside junior goalkeeper Ellie Shahbo. Pearce also scored two goals against Columbia, which she noted as a personal highlight from the first few games and something she rarely has the opportunity to do as a defender. Shahbo has been credited with shutouts for six of the ten games played thus far and currently leads the NCAA rankings for the lowest goals against average, allowing only 0.313 goals per game. In addition to Pearce and Shahbo’s strong recent performances, co-captain Mimi Tarrant rode a stellar weekend performance to earn the Ivy League’s Offensive Player of the Week award last week. Tarrant took home the award after a strong weekend that saw two assists against Columbia and one against Bucknell.
Coaches and players alike commented that the biggest challenge of the season so far has not been on the field, but rather the readjustment to the rhythm of college life. The welcome return to normalcy has been difficult as players have to reacquaint themselves with the balancing act of Harvard’s rigorous academic demands and a time-consuming practice and competition schedule. When asked about his coaching mentality and how he defines success for his team, Van Harwaarden of course placed emphasis on the team’s win-loss record, but also commented on the strict academic expectations for his players and refusal to make sacrifices in the classroom.
“As soon as they graduate Harvard, there has to be a bigger picture, and we look at field hockey as a great way to go through college, not a reason to go to college,” said Van Harwaarden. “We keep that in mind and we enjoy what we do; that’s what this program is for.”
With ten games completed and seven remaining in the regular season, the Crimson is focusing on the five remaining Ivy League matchups. Even though there haven’t been significant challenges on the field thus far, there is something to be learned from every opponent, and the team has been subtly improving its play throughout the first few weeks. With Yale and Dartmouth on the horizon for the next couple weekends, the Crimson hopes to continue their strong performance with two more Ivy wins.