There was a strong overcast over Ellen Vagelos Field as Penn field hockey squared off with Harvard, an apt metaphor for the stubborn opposition that the Quakers faced on the field Sunday.
In what ended up as an unfortunate 3-2 loss in double overtime for the Red and Blue (6-3, 1-1 Ivy), there were many points where the home side showed little sign of being able to surmount the 2-0 lead from its Boston rivals.
The Crimson (6-4, 2-0) went up 25 minutes into the first half after a shot off a corner found its way past junior goalie Liz Mata.
With less than two minutes in the first half, Harvard extended that lead to two when Crimson senior and leading goalscorer Marissa Balleza streaked down the left side and got off a shot that eventually deflected into the goal.
Harvard had seemed to neutralize its hosts, trapping Penn in its own defensive half for long periods of time and letting off a barrage of shots. While the Red and Blue had looked dangerous on certain occasions, the Crimson offensive press held strong and kept the Quakers on the defensive.
But every cloud has its silver lining.
“I think our team has always had that [resilience] as one of their core values,” coach Colleen Fink said. “I think that’s a characteristic that you get from playing college athletics, and when you’re really put to the test, that’s when you need to believe in yourself the most.
“And that’s what we talked about at halftime.”
The sun broke through when junior Alexa Hoover jumped on a Harvard defensive miscue and took the ball in a position where a forward with her proven track record could hardly be expected to miss. And she didn’t.
Hoover punished the Crimson and with it, cemented her status as one of, if not the best, forward Penn has ever seen. That goal, her 45th for the Red and Blue, elevated her to position of Penn’s all-time leading goal scorer.
“I’ll still have the same intensity as I’ve had in past years with wanting to score goals,” Hoover said. “It’s who I am. I’m a goalscorer. So I don’t think much is going to change. I’m just going to keep continuing.”
After breaking the single-season scoring record with 27 last year, Hoover had a slow start to her newest campaign, only tallying three in the team’s first eight games. Although she had her fair share of assists to supplement the lack of goals, there was little doubt that she would be back to her scoring ways soon.
“Obviously it was only going to be a matter of time,” Fink said of Hoover breaking the record. “She’s already had such an amazing career here at Penn, and she just stuck with it.”
The work for the day, however, was not finished. There were still 25 minutes left to play, a one-goal deficit and a daunting Harvard side that had not stopped its relentless press of the Red and Blue backline.
Mata and her defenders often came up big with saves as Harvard attacked the Penn goal, but whenever the Red and Blue took the ball, it was only a short time before the Crimson regained possession, often forcing tough and rushed passes from the Penn midfielders and defenders.
“I think our midfielders need to do a better job of transitioning in those outletting situations,” Fink said.
“I think it’s because the style of play that Harvard had today was man-to-man,” Hoover said. “We don’t usually see man-to-man in field hockey much so it was a little bit different playing against it.”
But whenever the Quakers were able to string together a couple passes, they had no trouble threatening the Harvard lead.
With seven minutes left to play, the overcast parted as an interception from junior defender Jasmine Li turned the play and released Hoover, who then reverse-chipped the ball into the bottom right corner with three Harvard players closing in on her.
Overtime was an even battle between the two sides, who looked extremely well-matched with the reduction in players and increase in open space. Both sides had numerous opportunities to score that golden goal, but it was ultimately Harvard that did the job in the 87th minute and ended the game.
As disappointing as the loss was, there were clear positives to be taken from Fink’s players, one of whom did not the field leave empty handed.
“Obviously you would have loved the storybook ending for [Hoover’s record breaking],” Fink said. “But she scored an important goal, and I knew it was going to come at the most critical time.”
Now with 46 goals to her name, Hoover has left no question as to her place in the record books and managed to bring some light to what was overall a gloomy day.
“It was awesome hearing them say that over the loudspeaker.”
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