AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Harvard – Ivy Dynasty In The Making?

Peyton Johnson

Junior Peyton Johnson Leads A Talented Harvard Midfield In 2012

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson
Big XII – Iowa State | Oklahoma | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Minnesota | Nebraska | Purdue
Mid-Majors – Florida Gulf Coast | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Utah State
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah | Washington
SEC – Arkansas | Mississippi State | Ole Miss
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco

Stability and success has returned to Boston and the Crimson of Harvard after a few trying seasons in the middle of the last decade. Tim Wheaton’s long reign at the head of the program brought seven league titles, ten NCAA Tournament appearances, and three appearances in the Elite Eight. After him came two rather ill-fated one-year sojourns. Stephanie Foster came to Boston in 2005 and had a rather tame season and jetted off to Evanston to take the Northwestern job at the end of the season. Ex-Dartmouth head coach Erica Walsh was next into the hot seat and tipped to enjoy some success after a very productive stint as boss of the Big Green. Instead, her one year reign was a comedy of errors, leading to a 3-13-1 record, easily the worst season in program history. Walsh somehow emerged unscathed after that disaster, floating into University Park with a golden parachute to take over at Penn State.

Harvard’s third coach in three years was a more trusted hand, that of veteran coach Ray Leone, who was coming off a six-year stint out west at Arizona State. The move was a bit of a gamble since Leone had seen diminishing results in Tempe, but at least the Crimson brass were likely confident that Leone wouldn’t be jumping at the first job that came open come season’s end. After a recovery into mid-table in Leone’s first season in charge, the Crimson rebounded in a big way in 2008 as Harvard brought home their first Ivy League title since 1999 and advanced to their first NCAA Tournament since 2004. Leone added a second title in as many seasons to Harvard’s trophy case a year later as the Crimson went back-to-back with their title triumphs.

As 2010 approached, Harvard aimed to go one better and win their third straight Ivy league title while also possibly advancing past the first round of the Big Dance since 2001. But the club would struggle against an ambitious non-conference schedule that likely wiped out hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament before league play started. Once it did, Harvard found itself off the pace though still performing respectably. The club would finish up the season in fourth place, two points off from champions Penn, snapping Harvard’s title streak.

The Crimson looked to get back on the title winning path in 2011 and started out the season reasonably well after a season opening loss to Long Island. Harvard put up three straight 2-1 wins, including triumphs over UMass and UConn that kept Leone’s side’s at-large bid hopes alive for the time being. Those hopes would suffer permanent damage from a three match losing streak though. Losing to Boston University didn’t hurt, but defeats to Hofstra and Rhode Island, the latter finishing under two hundred in the final RPI, were toxic to the RPI.

Needing to win the league to go dancing again, Harvard made it look easy. They derailed their two biggest challengers, Penn and Yale, in the opening two league games of the season and had a hand on the title at the halfway point despite a draw with basement dwellers Cornell. It’d be the only blemish on a brilliant Ivy League campaign, as Leone’s troops won their final four league games to roll to the league title.

The NCAA Tournament draw was friendly logistically, but a derby against Boston University was likely the last thing the Crimson wanted after BU had spanked them, 3-0, in the regular season. Leone must have been feeling deja vu after the first round match, as BU again proved their superiority, winning their second derby of the season by a 3-0 count and ending Harvard’s season. Harvard probably would’ve liked to have put up a better fight in the NCAA Tournament, but you probably aren’t going to find too many complaining about three titles in four seasons for the Crimson.

Twice the league’s top scoring unit, Harvard faces a fight to make it three years in a row on top of the scoring chart after losing their second straight Ivy League Player of the Year in Melanie Baskind. Baskind wasn’t quite as explosive as her predecessor, Katherine Sheeleigh, but the graduated senior was still strong enough to table eight goals and seven assists for the Boston club. While everyone else who scored multiple goals last season look set to return, that news is tempered with the knowledge that none of those returnees managed more than five goals.

An underachieving defense in 2010 was whipped into shape last season, with the club conceding less than a goal a game in the league, the second best mark amongst the Ivies. The bad news is that the club’s top two defenders, Rebecca Millock and Lindsey Kowal both depart, meaning the Crimson could be a bit less steely in defense this year. Leone’s recruited very well at Harvard though, and brings in another fine class this season, meaning any lulls in form in Boston should be brief in duration.

Goalkeepers

It ended up being goalkeeper by committee for Harvard last season, and a giant committee at that. The Crimson used a whopping four goalkeepers last season, and the situation doesn’t figure to get any clearer this year with all four set to return for action once more. Most of the minutes ended up going to sophomore Bethany Kanten, a highly regarded member of the club’s 2011 recruiting class who ended up starting nine games. After getting her feet wet for the first half of the season, Kanten would all but take over as the club’s starting keeper, playing all but a half in goal from October on. The sophomore looks likely to continue on as the club’s starter this season as well.

Senior Alexandra Millet looks most likely to be her backup this year. Millet came into the new year having started ten games in 2010 and the likely odds on favorite to be the club’s #1 in goal. Indeed, she’d start six of the club’s first seven matches but then didn’t feature for the rest of the season and appears to be a clear #2 to Kanten entering the new year. Junior Jessica Wright was relegated to lesser minutes after seven starts as a rookie, making only a pair of appearances for the club last year. She’ll likely be battling for scraps along with sophomore Cheta Emba, who made a few starts last season and saw roughly a half of action in a handful of other matches in the first half of the season. Though there are plenty of options still, it’d be mildly surprising to see anyone but Kanten with the bulk of the minutes this year.

Defenders

Last season’s group was fine enough within the Ivy League, but this group has some retooling to do given the sizable loss of both Kowal and Millock from the starting lineup. Kowal, a U.S. U23 international defender, is a sizable loss for the Crimson given her pedigree. Though she struggled to meet some of the hype she entered with at times, Kowal was solid and assured the final two seasons in Cambridge, earning All-Ivy League First Team both years. Kowal’s offense began to come around as a senior as well, with the veteran chipping in with four assists on the year.

Millock’s tale was a lot less straightforward, with the New York native barely making an impression for two seasons before turning into an invaluable starting defender as a junior and senior. Millock would start all but one match last season and is another big cog to replace. The club’s depth also takes a hit with the loss of Claudia Haeussler, a reserve last year who had started nine games as a rookie in 2010.

The amount of returning depth isn’t exactly encouraging. Sophomore Marie Margolius returns with the most starts under her belt last season after cracking the first XI ten times as a rookie. Margolius had been highly touted coming into the Crimson and already looks a key member of the club’s defense. Sophomore Kate Makaroff was somewhat less highly touted but ended playing a large role anyway, starting seven matches and scoring twice. Makaroff’s versatility is already a big asset for the Crimson, and the Hanover native can play in defense or midfield, with the former looking likely given the club’s defensive numbers crunch.

Senior Taryn Kurcz started every match as a rookie in 2009 but has been more of a spot starter since for the club, making four starts last season. She could be a favorite for a starting role again this year though with all the losses and the lack of depth on the club. Said issues might also open the door for rookie Alika Keene, a Jamaican U17 international, to make an instant impression in the lineup. This group is probably going to need other players from other positions drafted in to make up the numbers though, and considering what they lose, the Crimson could take a sizable step back here.

Midfielders

Harvard’s strength this season may ultimately lie in midfield, where the club is privy to some great young talent. Even with that talent, the club still has to replace a few contributors from last year’s lineup. Canadian Hana Taiji darted in and out of the lineup for much of her career but started fourteen matches last season and nabbed the game winner against Siena in October. Also departing is versatile Belgian Sophie Legros, who herself made a career high four starts in her final season in Cambridge.

Junior co-captain Peyton Johnson will likely be the fulcrum of this group this season after pulling down All-Ivy League First Team honors last season. Johnson had shown some real signs of quality as a rookie but really began to blossom last season, scoring four goals and adding three assists, with game winners against Yale and Dartmouth in the league. Johnson’s also capable in defense and might be needed there this year with the losses that unit takes.

Also figuring to star in the midfield this season is sophomore Meg Casscells-Hamby. The Floridian and former U17 international was a brilliant recruiting coup by Leone and staff last season and was worth her weight in gold last year, capping off a sparkling debut season with four goals and six assists despite missing two games. Casscells-Hamby would net assists in three of the club’s final four league games and looks to be a star in the making for the Crimson.

Fellow sophomore Lauren Urke ended up being overshadowed a bit but was also impressive as a rookie, scoring the winner against Columbia and starting twelve matches last year. Senior Aisha Price, also a member of the school’s water polo team, has been good for a handful of starts the past two years and should be equal for the same again this year. Depth shouldn’t suffer either, with Harvard boasting more than a few tested options off the bench.

Senior Alicia Johnson, junior Kristina Garrido, and sophomores Laura Aguilar and Mai Le all saw a variety of time last season and are capable options either off the bench or in the starting lineup in a pinch. Le in particular bears watching after showing some offensive flourishes as a rookie last year with two goals and three assists. Many eyes will undoubtedly be focused on rookie Haley Washburn though. A mainstay in the U.S. youth teams up to U18 level, Washburn could have an impact like Casscells-Hamby did last season and makes this potentially the league’s top midfield unit this season and perhaps beyond.

Forwards

Harvard was able to cope with Sheeleigh’s loss a season ago thanks to the presence of the talented Baskind on the roster, but it’s probably going to be a touch harder this year with few ready made replacements on hand at first glance. Baskind was something of a sporting wunderkind at Harvard during her tenure, starring for the soccer team while also captaining the school’s lacrosse team. Baskind leaves though as one of the soccer team’s most decorated figures of all-time, a four-time All-Ivy selection (2x First Team, 2x Second Team) to go along with being the 2008 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and the 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year. She won the last award unanimously after eight goals and eight assists, including scoring in five of seven league matches last year. Complicating matters is the subsequent loss of Patricia Yau, a reserve for much of her career who ended up starting fourteen games a year ago and assisting on a goal in the big win against Yale.

Junior Elizabeth Weisman heads into 2012 as Harvard’s leading returning scorer having tallied five goals last year and may be leaned on to make a big impact this season for the club. Weisman may have shown glimpses of scoring potential, but her strike rate against Ancient Eight opponents has to improve markedly if she’s to fill Baskind’s shoes, as the Californian scored just one goal against conference foes last year, that coming against bottom dwellers Cornell. Senior Alexandra Conigliaro has a good chance of partnering her up front after ten starts last season and nabbing the winner against UConn. Conigliaro didn’t do much otherwise in front of goal but has shown some sparks in the past, with five assists as a rookie before four goals and four assists in a sophomore season in which she won All-Ivy First Team honors.

Sophomore Erika Garcia was mostly used as a reserve last season but has tons of upside as a pool member of Mexico’s WNT. Garcia is a likely call-up to Mexico’s U20 World Cup team though, which could disrupt preseason preparations for the second year player. However, Harvard’s late start to the season should ensure she doesn’t miss a huge amount of time. With depth as a whole a little on the light side, the club may be hoping for an instant contribution from rookie Lauren Varela, a member of the powerful Scorpions SC club who has also been a Region I ODP mainstay in recent years. Harvard has a lot of simmering talent returning and coming in in this unit, but they may not have the star to fill Baskind’s shoes. Yet.

Outlook

Even as the Ivy League’s powers as a whole look to be on the wane in the college soccer landscape, Harvard appears to be carving themselves out a place as the conference’s flagship program. Three titles in four seasons has placed the Crimson at the head of the queue in the Ancient Eight’s balance of power, and four of five in the trophy department would be a mini-dynasty of sorts. The odds of it happening? Perhaps not as clear cut as Harvard supporters would like. The backline looks like a big set of question marks going into the new season with some big ticket departures combined with shaky depth on paper.

But even with the loss of Baskind, the club looks solid everywhere else, with plenty of youngsters looking ready to take the next step and turn into stars in the Ivy League. Nowhere more than in the midfield, where Leone has been stockpiling talent and could well reap the dividends this season. Harvard certainly aren’t clear favorites for Ivy silverware, but they’re up thereabouts as always and will almost assuredly be in the mix for a title come November.

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