“You just can’t play that well and not be rewarded,” said field hockey head coach Donna Hornibrook, after her team dropped back-to-back 1-0 decisions against Harvard and Maine this weekend. “I’ve coached a long time and it’s been a while since I saw a team play this well and still struggle.”
The Red (4-5, 2-3 Ivy) had hoped to snap its three-game slide against a Harvard team (1-10, 1-2) that had lost its first 10 matches overall, including two within the Ancient Eight. As Cornell was soon to find out, however, Harvard’s record was not a result of lack of talent. Having previously lost three close matches to top-15 teams including No. 12 Providence, No. 10 UConn, and No. 5 Duke, the Crimson had developed a solid defensive style of play. Harvard’s approach was combined with the defensive mindset that the Red took into the match up, as they looked to employ their zone.
“In practice that week we had been working more on our zone, which is a more defensive set,” said senior co-captain Lindsay Moyer. “So our big mind set was zone, defense, and everyone coming back to help on defense.”
These styles of play combined to create a game that was played largely at midfield, with little circle play on either end. While Cornell only mustered two shots, Harvard did not register one until there was just over 10 minutes left in the first half. Sophomore keeper Shannon Prescott, making her first Ivy League start, turned the Crimson away twice, making a stick save on Harvard’s Aline Brown after she slipped by the last Red defender, and then making a diving stop on a penalty corner. She would finish the game with three saves.
“The saves Shannon made were quality saves,” Hornibrook said. “She was very quick and anticipated well.”
While the Red defense smoothly tracked Crimson forwards, rotating and communicating quickly and efficiently, the offense was stagnant, putting up three second-half shots and one penalty corner after having three in the first half.
“We did a great job defensively,” Hornibrook said. “We were making sure to cover and track, finishing tackles and communicate. We just didn’t get enough attack going. We weren’t moving up front enough, not running enough. We were quiet when we needed to be more active.”
“No one was ringing someone out to dry,” Moyer said. “We made sure that people weren’t getting in two-on-one situations. It really was all 11 people playing defense.”
Despite several golden opportunities in the second half, including sophomore Brenna Gulotta receiving a pass behind the defense and a steal deep in Crimson territory leading to a shot from sophomore Abbi Horn, the Red came away empty handed. The final buzzer sounded with the score still knotted at zero. Before Cornell could even get adjusted to its first overtime game of the year, however, it was over. Just over a minute in, Harvard marched down the right side on its first possession, sending a cross in front of the goal which was popped up in the air by a defender briefly before the Crimson’s Gretchen Fuller streaked in and knocked it into the back of the net.
“We came away from the Harvard game knowing that attacking is something we needed,” Moyer said. “Everyone was more attack oriented [Monday].”
Sure enough, the Red came out Monday and pounded out 21 shots and 10 penalty corners.
“We worked it all over, right center left, left center right, up the sidelines, up the middle,” Moyer said. “We dominated. It was the best game we played this year.”
And still, Cornell lost. The offense ran until the final whistle blew, the defense gave an encore performance to Saturday’s match, again giving up only five shots, and yet, Cornell lost.
“We played our best game of the season [Monday],” Hornibrook said. “We couldn’t have played much better defensively, and the midfield really came through.”
Maine (5-8) took advantage of its first scoring chance of the second half, scoring after a penalty corner was deflected but not cleared, leaving a mass of players in front of the net before the ball squirted into the goal after the Black Bears’ Kristen Healy reversed it in from a few yards out. Cornell’s scoring chances were too numerous to list, but the Red was constantly rebuffed by Maine goalie Maygan Cassarino, who chalked up 14 saves on the afternoon.
“We just had a bunch of balls that barely missed the post,” Hornibrook said. “Right now we just need a good group effort. Just like our defense starts at the front and goes all the way back, our attack has to start at the back and work all the way up to the front. We need to make sure there’s not big gaps between the lines so if we turn it over we can play the ball again right away. Other than that, we just need to concentrate on everyone contributing.”
Despite the fact that the losses may seem like they are starting to pile up, the team remains positive.
“We are disappointed,” Hornibrook said. “But we are also determined. We still have lots of confidence because we know we’re a good team. We’ve done various things well each game. We just need to work on putting it all together.”