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Lobbing Some Softballs

March 12, 2010

Chemistry is an essential component to a team’s success.

Without it, teams crumble in the most dire of times, succumbing to the pressures of a big game that requires much more than just plain talent.

In order to do well this season, Harvard coach Jenny Allard has ensured that the softball squad continues to foster a tight-knit community of support and encouragement.

She paired sophomore standout Rachel Brown, last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, with rookie Jessica Ferri to provide guidance and advice.

Here are some things Brown shared with The Back Page a few weeks ago about Ferri and the friendship between the two talented pitchers.

Ferri’s addition:

“Jess is a great pitcher, and already she’s a great addition to the team. She really makes us a stronger pitching staff, especially because I think we complement each other very well. I’ll throw more up and rise pitches, while she’s more of a drop ball pitcher. She’s a very strong competitor and has a strong work ethic. With her on the team, it adds to the strength of our team.”

Ferri’s work ethic:

“She always wants to practice more. It’s awesome. Right now we’re practicing; well, during the fall, we would practice three to four times a week, and she wanted another one or two days to work out. Like I said earlier, she has a great work ethic, and she’s really hitting her stride, because we are going six days a week, and she’s working hard every practice.”

Ferri’s strengths:

“It’s not that she’s just a great pitcher, but she’s also very smart about it. She’s a competitor, so she’s very touch and fierce on the mound, but it’s really funny because she’s the sweetest girl off the field. She’ll go from pitching and being all serious and focused, and once she’s done pitching she’ll be giggling. She’s just really fun.”

Hanging out with Jess outside of practice:

“There’s a big Kappa contingency on the softball team. Jess is actually my little sister in Kappa, and Dana is my big sister, so it’s kind of a pitching dynasty (laughs). So it’s fun. We like hanging out together outside of the sport. It’s kind of funny. During the season we have either Mondays or Wednesdays off, and we miss each other on that day, so it’s fun when we come back together.”

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March Madness On Ice

March 11, 2010

It’s March, and that means it’s time for Madness. But while you’re anxiously researching sleeper picks for your bracket, it’s worth pointing out that for some sports, tourney time is already here.

Eight teams have qualified for this year’s NCAA women’s hockey championship, including fourth-seeded Harvard, who finished third in regular-season ECAC play and was bounced in the conference semifinals.

Yes, you heard that right. The Crimson has secured the only home-ice berth from the ECAC, despite being the third-best program in conference play. Now how the heck did that happen?

Harvard entered play last weekend fourth in both the polls and the computer rankings, and a tournament championship would surely secure the squad its second home NCAA game in three seasons.

Then the Crimson fell to Clarkson, then ranked sixth by the computers, on Friday night, and the chances of a top-four seed looked slim.

But after Harvard lost, everything else fell in its favor. New Hampshire, sitting in fifth and looking like a prime candidate to grab home-ice advantage, got walloped, 4-0, by then-unranked Boston University in the Hockey East semifinals.

Clarkson became the heir apparent to the No. 4 slot, and the Golden Knights promptly lost to Cornell in overtime of the ECAC championship.

And the Big Red, despite winning both the conference regular-season and tournament titles, went a miserable 1-6 in non-conference play during the regular season, leaving the Crimson—with its stronger schedule—as the last team standing.

Harvard went 1-3-4 against the tournament field this season, losing to Cornell once and Clarkson twice. It recorded ties against the Big Red, the Golden Knights, New Hampshire, and Minnesota, and it defeated the Gophers—the No. 3 seed—1-0 at Bright in December.

The Crimson will host Cornell Friday night at 7 p.m. at Bright Hockey Center, with the winner advancing to play either No. 1 Mercyhurst or No. 8 BU next Friday in the Frozen Four.

O’Connor the Great

March 10, 2010

I have to admit, before this year I had never seen any wrestling matches in my life, live or on television. Sure, I had seen WWE wrestling with the dramatic storylines and fighting that captivated me as a child. But watching co-captain J.P. O’Connor and the other Harvard wrestlers for the first time was a new experience that suddenly made me interested in the sport.

This past weekend, O’Connor stepped onto the mat as the favorite at the EIWA Championships at Lehigh. He had been to the finals each of the last three years, but fell in the championship match every time, despite earning All-American honors in two of those seasons. This time around, as the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 157 pounds and with a 29-0 record on the season, O’Connor came into the final as the clear favorite. The question still remained, though, if he would be able to pull off the win that had eluded him for three years. Would he be able to do what only two other Harvard wrestlers in his weight class had done before?

O’Connor put all of the questions to rest and fought past whatever nerves he had to take the championship match in a 3-1 decision against Navy’s Bryce Saddoris, the No. 3 seed. Along with two of his other teammates, co-captain Louis Caputo and freshman Steven Keith, the senior qualified for the NCAA Championships at the end of this month. I haven’t heard much talk about his accomplishments on campus and there are not full crowds at the matches, but it’s a shame that more students did not get to see O’Connor in his final year of action in a Crimson singlet. Sure, it’s not exactly like the WWE wrestling from my childhood, but there is plenty of drama in watching the No .1 wrestler at 157 pounds go after a title he’s been seeking for years and cap off Harvard’s second undefeated season in its history. Now, if only these storylines headlined HBO specials, Crimson wrestling and its stars might get the attention they deserve.

Crimson Strives For Efficiency On the Court

March 10, 2010

The Harvard men’s volleyball team’s victory over New Jersey Science and Technology University last weekend was a spark of hope in what has been so far an underachieving season.

Reviewing the first 10 games, in which all except one have been losses, one of the key flaws of the team is its overall lack of efficiency both offensively and defensively. The Crimson offense has been error prone, committing 241 errors on 1118 total attacks this season. Harvard falls below its opponents in attack percentage, .191 to .289, as well as kills per set, at 13.4 to 14.9. Additionally, service errors­­­­­­—148 and counting—take away important and hard-earned possessions.

The fact that the Crimson cannot take advantage of its chances on offense is a big part of the reason for its losing record. In fact, in the 3-1 loss to the Stevens Institute of Technology four days ago, the team committed three service errors to give the game to the Ducks.

On the defensive end, Harvard falls below its opponents in total blocks 64.5 to 92.5. Also, it has committed 66 serve reception errors, translating to 1.9 errors per set. While this might not seem like a big number, momentum plays a huge role in the game of volleyball, and sophomore Matt Jones stressed the importance of stopping the opponent team’s runs, a feat that can only be achieved through a more efficient and error-free defense.

On the bright side, the team has seen huge contributions from its young starters, with sophomores Nicola Ivica and Jones recording a combined 196 kills and freshman Derek Jansma getting 60 digs to lead the team. With the new lineup change and the team’s recent shift in morale, the Crimson still has hopes of having a good season, provided the team plays more efficiently in both aspects of the game.

Defense Provides Offense for Crimson

March 5, 2010

Wednesday afternoon the Harvard men’s lacrosse team faced a non-conference opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas, in a televised contest played at Georgetown. The Crimson is poised to be a top team this year, returning its leading scorers from last season and welcoming one of the most talented freshmen classes of any team in the nation. Harvard fell to the Hoyas on Wednesday, but the Crimson’s offense was relentless, especially in the closing minutes when it tallied four goals in two minutes en route to falling by one, 13-12.

That Harvard will have a strong offense again this year is certainly expected, but I, for one, have been wondering what the condition of their defensive line will be after graduating several starters including goalie, Joe Pike ’08. If senior Ben Smith’s early season contributions are any indication of how the defense will play, then I’d say the defensive line is going to be very solid this year .

In the first two games of the season, Smith has already tallied two goals for the Crimson. Smith scored against Canisius in the season opener at Harvard last Saturday. His score came after the defense pushed the ball up field and carried the action into the offensive zone, creating an opportunity for Smith to have a shot on net. After three years on the roster and plenty of game action in the past few seasons, this was Smith’s first collegiate goal. The goal was not a fluke or a stroke of luck by any means though. On Wednesday, in the tough battle with the Hoyas, Smith again netted a goal.

Smith’s versatility on the field perhaps indicates some untapped potential to his game. Whatever the cause of his newfound ability to drive to the goal, it is certainly a harbinger of great things to come for both Smith and the rest of Coach Tillman’s defense.

Hockey Players Earn Season Honors

March 5, 2010

It’s tourney time for women’s hockey, and with the end of the regular season also comes a slew of regular-season prizes.

Junior Kate Buesser and freshman Jillian Dempsey are both up for two of ECAC Hockey’s biggest individual accolades.

Buesser, a forward, is a top-three finalist for ECAC Player of the Year after earning a spot on the conference first team last week. The junior has stepped into the void left by the graduation of Sarah Vaillancourt ’08-’09, Jenny Brine ’09, and Sarah Wilson ’09 to lead the team with 38 points on 15 goals and 23 assists.

Buesser is tops in the ECAC with a +26 ranking, and was the conference’s second-leading scorer in league games. She is competing with Dartmouth senior Sarah Parsons and Cornell sophomore Catherine White, both forwards, for the prize.

Dempsey, a center, is one of three candidates for the conference Rookie of the Year prize. She is second on the Crimson with 26 points and is 10th among rookies nationally with 0.86 points per game. Big Red defenseman Laura Fortino and Quinnipiac goaltender Victoria Vigilanti are the other two finalists.

Buesser, Dempsey, and No. 4 Harvard take on No. 6 Clarkson in the ECAC semifinals tomorrow night in Potsdam, N.Y.

Harvard Athletes Do Good, Well

March 4, 2010

While sporting events may not the biggest source of revenue at Harvard, several recent rivalry matchups allowed for serious fundraising for a very worthy cause.

During last month’s high-profile men’s basketball and ice hockey games against Ivy League foe Cornell, Crimson athletes dressed in old school Harvard gear made their way throughout packed crowds collecting donations for Partners in Health – Harvard for Haiti. The event, organized by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, raised over $5,000 for the cause.

The SAAC, led by senior softball player Melissa Schellberg, is comprised of representatives from most of the school’s varsity squads, including several head coaches. The group organizes community events and serves as a connection between athletes and Athletic Department administrators.

The fundraising at the February matchups was just one example of Crimson student-athletes’ more philanthropic activities. Over the last few years, several teams, players, and other SAAC members have been involved in everything from producing an educational math video for elementary students, to a bench press challenge benefitting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, to this fall’s “Miles for Myles” event in honor of the late NCAA President Myles Brand.

Check out athletes’ latest charity efforts at Harvard football’s Blood Drive, held 1-6 p.m. Friday on the second floor of the Dillon Field House.

Wilson Makes Spring Training Roster

March 2, 2010

It’s a long road from the 28th round in the MLB Draft to a roster spot on a Major League Team, but former Harvard player Steffan Wilson may have a chance to complete the journey this season. Wilson was added yesterday to the spring training roster for the Milwaukee Brewers, where he was called up to back MLB star Prince Fielder.

It was a big jump for Wilson, who spent last year playing in the Class A Advanced or “A+” league for the Brevard County, part of the Brewers’ farm system. He batted .272 with 13 home runs, 15 doubles, and 60 RBIs.

Wilson played baseball for the Crimson for three years before leaving Cambridge a year early to pursue his baseball dreams. Some regarded it as a bad move given that his junior year performance failed to match preseason expectations, but the first baseman couldn’t turn down a shot at his childhood dream of making the Big Leagues even if it meant leaving Harvard coach Joe Walsh and Harvard baseball behind. General manager Doug Melvin say his primarily role will be to allow Fielder to get some rest time in drills, a comment not surprisingly left off the GoCrimson update.

So while it remains unlikely that 2010 will be the magic year for Wilson to play in a regular season game, membership on the Spring Training roster means that he can always say he was on a major league baseball team even if it was just for spring training.

And he can always follow the lead of Brian Scalabrine, speaking here on not playing during the Celtics 2008 Title Run:

“Maybe now you could say I didn’t play a second, but in five years, you guys are going to forget. In ten years I’ll still be a champion. In 20 years I’ll tell my kids I probably started, and in 30 years I’ll probably tell them I got the MVP. So I’m probably not too worried about it.”

Crimson article on Steffan Wilson from the 2007 season can be found here.

Stats Shed Light on Ivy Hoops

March 1, 2010

Harvard men’s basketball closes out its regular season on the road against the Killer P’s this weekend. The Crimson will look to secure a second place Ivy finish with a pair of victories.

So how do the teams match up? Penn sits at 4-7 in conference, Princeton at 8-3, and Harvard at 9-3.

But maybe more telling of how good the teams are is a statistic calculated by Harvard freshman John Ezekowitz (http://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/ivy-league-efficiency-margins-week-2/).

Looking at team tempo and points scored and allowed per possession, Ezekowitz has developed a ranking system for Ivy League basketball teams. The statistic he uses is called a team’s Efficiency Margin.

The system for the most part validates the Ivy League standings, but it offers a little more detail into how strong the teams are.

In line with common knowledge, Cornell is by far the leader in the Ivies in efficiency margin at .28. Princeton’s efficiency margin is .15, barely above Harvard’s .13. After the top three teams, there is a major drop off. Brown, Yale, and Penn come in at -.04, -.05, and -.06, respectively. Columbia sits at -.14 and Dartmouth occupies the cellar at -.22.

Cornell boasts the leagues best offense at 1.16 points per possession and Princeton claims the league’s best defense with a league-low .87 points per possession. Harvard is the fastest playing team in the Ivies with adjusted tempo of 68.7 possessions per game.

Women’s Hockey Alum Chosen to Represent Olympians

February 26, 2010

Among casual sports fans, her name may not earn the immediate recognition of Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno, or Lindsey Vonn, but when it came to selecting a representative, Olympic athletes chose Angela Ruggiero ’02-’04 of the US women’s hockey team, currently competing for a gold medal as I write.

Ruggiero was selected to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, which represents the concerns of athletes to the IOC.

The 2004 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, Ruggiero won gold with the team in 1998 in Nagano before taking silver with the team in Salt Lake City and bronze in Turin.

When interviewed by NBC after the first period, Ruggiero said she was “thrilled” to be selected to the 19-person committee. Ruggiero was selected for an eight-year term along with bobsledder Adam Pengilly of Great Britain.

The selection will allow Ruggiero to express the views of athletes in Olympic planning. But it won’t help her against Canada, which currently has a two-goal lead in the gold-medal game.

Among casual sports fans, her name may not earn the immediate recognition of Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno, or Lindsey Vonn, but when it came to selecting a representative, athletes chose Angela Ruggiero ’02-’04 of the US women’s hockey team, currently competing for a gold medal as I write.

Ruggiero was selected to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission. The athletes’ commission represents the concerns of athletes to the IOC.

The 2004 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, Ruggiero won gold with the team in 1998 in the Nagano Olympics before taking silver with the team in Salt Lake City and bronze in Turino

When interviewed by NBC after the first period, Ruggiero said she was “thrilled” to be selected to the 19 person committee. Ruggiero was selected for an eight year commission along with bobsledder Adam Pengilly of Great Britain.

The selection will allow Ruggiero to express the views of athletes in Olympic planning. But it won’t help her against Canada, which currently has a two goal lead in the gold medal game.