In a nail-biting game between two Ivy League powerhouses, the women’s soccer team (9-3, 4-0 Ivy) defeated nationally-ranked No. 16 Harvard (9-1-1, 3-1 Ivy) Saturday in Cambridge in a tightly-contested 1-0 match. The victory makes the Bears the only Ivy League team still undefeated in conference play and gives them sole possession of first place in the conference.
The Crimson, which entered the game as one of four remaining undefeated Division I teams, took its first loss of the season to Bruno. Forward Brittany Raphino ’23, Brown’s leading scorer, scored the deciding goal off an assist from forward Ava Seelenfreund ’23.5.
The Bears were also buoyed by the strong play of goalkeeper Kayla Thompson ’21.5 and the rest of the Brown defense, which kept a strong Harvard offense off the board for all 90 minutes to achieve a clean sheet.
The flow of the game oscillated between advantages for the Bears and Crimson, but both sides ultimately struggled to hit the back of the net. Brown’s defense was constantly under attack from a relentless Harvard offense that controlled possession for the majority of the game. The Crimson got 11 shots off, but due to the strong performance of the Bears’ back line, only two of the shots were on goal. Brown only got off six shots, but the one of their three shots on goal that went past the Harvard goalkeeper was all it took for a Bears victory.
The aggressive Crimson attack, combined with harsh on-field conditions, meant that the Brown defense had their work cut out for them, according to Thompson. “On top of facing a strong Harvard attack, there was a huge wind factor, particularly in the first half, that we had to step up and face,” she said. “Our entire back line stuck to the game plan, neutralized their key players and worked incredibly hard to shut out Harvard.”
The relentless back-and-forth continued well into the second half as the score remained knotted up at 0-0. The Bears’ defense faced a number of potentially dangerous tests, but Thompson and the back line held firm to keep the Crimson off the board. The deadlock was finally broken in the 75th minute when Raphino drove down the field and fired the ball into the back of the net out of the reach of Harvard goalkeeper Anna Karpenko.
Head Coach Kia McNeill praised Raphino’s play in an email to The Herald. “Brittany scored a huge goal for us in a critical moment of the game,” she wrote. “That’s what bigtime players do.”
Though the goal came late in the contest, the game was far from over. Brown had to resist a Harvard offense that was fighting desperately to retie the game and throwing everything it had at the Bears’ defense.
Still, Raphino emphasized that playing with the lead gave the Bears the mental boost they needed to finish strong. “We were telling each other at halftime that it’s only going to take one goal to put the game away,” she said. “We knew that once we got one, we could (hunker down) and become a brick wall against their offense.” The Bears held firm for 15 more minutes, handing the Crimson its first loss of the season and Brown the sole position atop the Ivy League standings.
The close, low-scoring nature of the game against Harvard will help prepare the Bears for a possible postseason run, according to McNeill. “Most high-level games are going to be low-scoring games, which is why it is so important to take care of your opportunities when they come,” she wrote. “Both teams are really trying to play to minimize mistakes, but also (capitalize) on the other team's mistakes. On Saturday, (it) was a game of inches, and they made one more mistake than we did.”
Brown's victory could have substantial postseason implications, particularly because the Ivy champion is decided based on regular season standings. “A win against this very good, ranked, undefeated team was huge not only for our remaining Ivy season, but also for our look at a postseason run,” Thompson said. “This was a huge battle for us to win.”
While the victory against Harvard was a vital milestone for the Bears, they are still looking ahead to what comes next, according to Raphino. “With three games left, we want to continue to show our dominance in the (Ivy) League and get high scoring results,” she said. Two years ago, “when the team last won the Ivy Conference, we didn’t go 7-0 in the (Ivy) League, so that’s the goal we’re looking to reach.” That season, they finished 6-0-1 in Ivy League play.
McNeill reiterated that the team has their eyes on a perfect Ivy League season, but she also emphasized that they cannot become complacent.
“I don’t think a Brown women’s soccer (team) has (had a perfect record in conference play) in over 30 years, so that is the goal in mind for us right now,” she wrote. “We look at every game like it is a ‘round’ in the Ivy League Tournament and right now we still have three more rounds that we need to take care of, and it’s important that we stay focused for that. The Harvard win felt great, but starting Monday, we have to move on and prepare for Cornell.”