That is how field hockey head coach Tjerk van Herwaarden described how he was feeling after No. 12 Harvard beat No. 2 Michigan on its own turf to clinch a seat among the final four in NCAA Division I.
“Just to go into a weekend with [Louisville] and then having Michigan as the number two team in the country, you know you’re climbing up a steep hill,” van Herwaarden reflected.
“We’re very proud, and excited, but it still hasn’t sunk in at this moment.”
FRIDAY, NOV. 12: No. 12 HARVARD 1, No. 6 LOUISVILLE 0
Before the Crimson took down the Wolverines on Sunday, the team played a tight match against No. 6 University of Louisville on Phyllis Ocker Field in Ann Arbor, Mich. The win on Friday matched the team’s best NCAA tournament run since 2018, reaching the quarterfinal round for the second time in school history.
“Louisville is one of the best defensive teams in this country, which was also displayed in the game,” van Herwaarden remarked. “We are the best or the second-best defensive team in this country, so I knew it was going to be a defensive battle.”
“This weekend the defense has stepped up to a whole different level.”
Louisville, who appeared in the 2020 semifinals, fell to Harvard 1-0 in overtime. This marks only the second time the Cardinals have been shutout this season.
In the first quarter, neither team managed to have scoring opportunities. The second quarter remained tense as Harvard held two penalty corners, with senior and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Hannah Pearce just missing the net.
By the end of the first half, the score remained 0-0. Harvard held a 10-7 advantage in shots and a 6-4 lead in penalty corners.
The second half of the game provided more scoring chances for both the Cardinals and the Crimson with Louisville holding a 3-2 edge in shots. Junior Olivia Hoover made a shot just wide of the net. Harvard junior goalkeeper Ellie Shahbo, who holds the No. 1 save percentage (0.878) and No. 1 goals-against average (0.35) for all Division I goalkeepers in the country, made great saves against two penalty corners from Louisville.
At the end of the four quarters, the game remained scoreless, sending the game into overtime.
In the sixth minute of overtime, sophomore Avery Donahue broke the 0-0 score with a one-touch goal into the back of the net after receiving a feed from senior captain Mimi Tarrant, sending the Crimson to the quarterfinal round for the second time in program history.
SUNDAY, NOV. 14: No. 12 HARVARD 1, No. 2 MICHIGAN 0
After a three-hour game delay and snowfall, the Crimson took to Michigan’s own Ocker Field for an intense quarterfinal battle with the hosts for a spot among the final four.
In the third-ever meeting between the two teams, Michigan stood as one of the top offensive teams in the country with an average of 3.26 goals per game. However, that average did not hold for the matchup against defensive powerhouse Harvard, as the game remained scoreless for all four quarters.
In a quick first half, similar to the Louisville game on Friday, neither team was able to tally a shot. That was until the Wolverines pressured the Crimson with a penalty shot in the last minute before the half, though the shot went wide.
A penalty stroke, the most severe penalty in field hockey, was given to Harvard in the third quarter of the game, though it was overturned and kept the Wolverines from tallying a shot on the board. Near the end of the period, the Crimson managed a shot on Michigan goalkeeper Anna Spieker, though she pushed the shot away, marking her first save of the game. By the end of the third, Harvard held a 4-0 edge in shots.
In the fourth quarter, Michigan increased the pressure, holding a 6-0 edge in shots over the Crimson. Harvard was given a yellow card for an illegal substitution, granting Michigan a player advantage for the first five minutes of the first overtime period. The Wolverines scored off a penalty shot, but upon further review, the Michigan goal was overturned, and the score remained 0-0. The Crimson defense remained resilient, sending the game into a second overtime period.
One minute into the second overtime period, Michigan was handed two yellow cards, forcing the Wolverines into a tough six-on-four Crimson advantage. Despite being up two players, Harvard could not find the back of the net in the second overtime. Both teams survived corners, sending the game into a shootout.
“We knew it was going to be very limited moments that we would have anything going to the goal, so that it ended up going into overtime didn’t at all surprise me to that extent, and eventually taking it all the way to the shootout where we then dominated,” head coach van Herwaarden commented.
Harvard scored in its first three shootout attempts, with shots coming from senior midfielder/forward Rachel Greenwood and Tarrant, and the game-winning shot from sophomore midfielder/defender Isa Gooijer.
After saving the first two shots, standout Shahbo made a decisive save against Michigan’s Halle O’Neill to win the game, marking the Crimson’s highest-ranked opponent that it has defeated in school history.
NEXT UP: No. 7 NORTHWESTERN
On Friday afternoon, Harvard will return to Ocker Field to take on No. 7 Northwestern University in the Crimson’s first appearance in a Final Four game.
Northwestern beat 2020 NCAA championship title-holder North Carolina in the first round of the tournament last Friday and upset Iowa with a last-minute goal to send the Wildcats to the Final Four.
Whatever the outcome of Friday’s game may be, this NCAA Tournament run has made for a historic season in Harvard field hockey history. Holding the number one goals-against average (0.390), save percentage (0.860), and winning percentage (0.941) in the NCAA, Harvard has earned its spot among the final four.
— Staff writer Mairead Baker can be reached at email@example.com.