Regardless of sport, venue or year, any Harvard-Yale game is always grounds for a warranted dose of romanticizing, posturing and hype. Rivalries are renewed each season with a fresh batch of faces, each bent on making its little mark in the annals of the historic feud. But in seemingly most instances, one program is the historic force; the other, a hapless perennial runner-up.
Women’s lacrosse is quite the exception here. Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs (5-4, 1-1 Ivy) host a Crimson (2-5, 0-0) program that saw its last glory days go out with the Reagan administration, and a 2-5 start this year is indicative of a malaise that is thriving well into its second decade. Yale, on the other hand, has only come onto the radar screen in the last few years, taking a share of the Ancient Eight title in 2003 but still playing second fiddle to a polished Dartmouth dynasty.
After knocking off mighty No. 13 Dartmouth last week, the Elis know that games against No. 8 Princeton and No. 12 Cornell over the next few weeks are the keys to the first outright Ivy championship in team history. But that has hardly hampered the emotional drive that only a Harvard game can provoke.
“The importance of the Harvard game goes without saying,” Yale head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Although we’ve been up in the standings over the last few years, it always seems like a game decided by one goal. With the huge emotions special to this game, on any given day anyone can win.”
Last season proved to be a rare one-sided affair, with the Bulldogs hammering the Crimson, 16-9, up in Boston. Midfielders Lauren Taylor ’08 and Alessandra Croffy ’05 each unloaded for four goals, and the Elis easily dealt Harvard its sixth straight defeat of an eventual 13-game losing streak.
Defender Lindsay Levin ’07 recalled that last year, along with Yale’s 8-6 home victory in 2004, was memorable not only for the intensity but for the inhospitable forecast.
“It may not sound that important, but my memory of Harvard has been bad weather,” she said. “Being out in the cold and rain steps up the game, because you don’t want to feel like you spent all that time fighting in the horrendous weather for nothing.”
Several Elis remarked on the similarities between the perceived inconsistencies of the two teams. Yale dawdled out of the gate early this season, dogged by an unfortunate knack for the slow start, but finally linked two strong performances together with the Dartmouth game and a 19-11 victory over Fairfield Wednesday afternoon. The Cantabs, only a win away from matching their grand total of three from the 2005 campaign, went nearly four weeks between their two lone wins of the season, against Holy Cross and St. Mary’s.
With a defense bolstered by All-Ivy senior Bridget Driscoll, the Crimson have solidified forces around the net heading into their first Ivy matchup, but the Elis are still considered clear favorites in Saturday’s battle.
Princeton looms large for the Yale squad that now seems to have found its groove after a shaky start. The Elis drive down to the Garden State a week from Saturday to face a team that handily disposed of them last year, 11-5, and has done so every year since 2003. While the game against the Tigers is probably the most pivotal match this year, Levin said her team will take an equally high level of intensity into the Harvard game.
“It’s so different because Princeton is always at the top and Harvard isn’t,” she said. “We know we can’t expect to beat Princeton, but we know we have it in us. We already had a big upset with Dartmouth this year, and I know the excitement will be even more with Princeton.”
But regardless of how high the Tigers are ranked, Taylor said nothing can quite match the atmosphere that sprouts up when Harvard comes to town.
“Its always so big and so much fun, and I’m just so happy we’re playing it here this year,” she said. “This year they have to travel, and we’re going to attract a great group of fans on Saturday.”