Freshmen Pave Way as No. 22 Women’s Water Polo Sweeps Harvard Mini

Harvard improved to 10-2 against Villanova and Iona on opening day the past six seasons (Gil Talbot).

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. –No. 22 Harvard women's water polo got off to a strong start in its season debut, tallying a pair of 14-goal performances in a 14-4 triumph in the opener against Villanova and followed with a 14-5 win against Iona as it hosted the Harvard Mini Saturday at Blodgett Pool.

Harvard (2-0) was led by its freshmen in the season debut against Villanova as eight of the team's 14 goals came from rookies, led by Kristen Hong with five scores, while Sam Acker tallied four stops in net. The Crimson's first-years were instrumental in the finale against Iona as well, combining for five scores.

"I'm very excited about this freshmen class,"  said The Friends of Water Polo Head Coach Ted Minnis. "They're going to add to the depth that we already have. The freshmen did what we expected them to do and weren't afraid to play in their first college game."

The freshmen wasted no time in making an impact as Hong and Colby Stapleton netted the Crimson's opening scores less than two minutes into play. Melissa Balding and Hong struck again to push Harvard's lead to 4-2 after the end of the opening period.

Balding started the second period scoring with a spin move from two meters and Charlotte Hendrix fired a rocket into the back of the net between two defenders. Stapleton and Hendrix each tallied their second goals of the contest to push the lead to six, but Villanova netted two-straight goals to end the half, cutting the Crimson's advantage at 8-4.

Both defensives clamped down to open the second half until Hong broke the drought, converting a penalty on a skip-shot by the Wildcats keeper. Nikki Daurio and Zoe Osborne tallied their first goals of the season, while the Crimson defense stifled the Wildcats, holding them scoreless in the period to go on top 12-4 heading into the final frame.

Hong and Balding lit the scoreboard once again as Acker and the Crimson defense held Villanova scoreless again, securing a 14-4 victory in the season opener.

"She had a little jitters in the first half and gave up a couple goals she wish she could have back," said Minnis. "She said at halftime that, 'they're not going to score in the second half' and she didn't let them score."

Harvard returned to the pool in equally dominant fashion against Iona. Once again, Hong tallied the opening score of the game, while Yoshi Andersen followed with her first score of the year, pacing Harvard as it grabbed a 5-2 lead after the first.

"I think that we all trust each other a lot as a team," said Andersen. "We're able to critique each other so it's helped us get to a point where we gel a lot faster because everybody can be honest with each other."

The Crimson defense was dominant once again, shutting out the Gaels in the second period, while Daurio, Osborne and Hendrix added their names to the scoreboard, giving the Crimson a 9-2 advantage at the half.

Balding caught fire in the second half as she netted three of Harvard's final five goals as the Crimson cruised to a 14-5 triumph. Celo Harrington was a force in net, shutting downs the Gaels attack with 13 stops.

 "We've haven't been playing that long together but we're starting to get each other's playing styles, seeing what the other person wants and when they want the ball," said Hong. "It was a good start and I hope it leads to a good season for our team." 

Harvard will return to the pool next weekend at the Brown Invitational.