Harvard and Princeton battle for title
Ivy League championship slated for 1 p.m. ET on Sunday
Historically, the Ivy League hasn’t been much for postseason conference championships.
While the conference’s track and field championship (the Heptagonal Games, which formerly included Army and Navy) dates back to 1935, the Ancient Eight remains the lone Division I conference not to sponsor a conference tournament in basketball, and regular-season champions also receive the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament berths in soccer, field hockey and tennis.
Two years into the tournament era of Ivy League lacrosse, however, it’s fair to say that a postseason championship agrees with the Ancient Eight, at least on the women’s side of the field.
When the second annual Ivy League Women’s Lacrosse Championship begins on Sunday at Franklin Field in Philadelphia (noon ET, CBS Sports Network), the two teams that tied for the regular season championship will be sitting on the sidelines. No. 10 Dartmouth, which went 6-1 in Ivy League play and finished the regular season at 11-3 last weekend with a stunning upset of top-ranked Maryland, snapping the reigning NCAA Champions’ win streak at 22 games, dropped an 11-10 decision to Harvard in the first of two conference semifinals on Friday. Then, in the second semifinal, No. 8 Pennsylvania – who finished their 11-4 regular season with a win against then-No. 4 Duke – lost to No. 14 Princeton 10-8 in overtime. That leaves the Crimson and the Tigers, neither of whom was even on the bubble for an at-large bid coming into the weekend, to play for the Ivy’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Coming off of a week when Ivy teams took down No. 1 Maryland, No. 2 Florida (Cornell), No. 4 Duke and No. 13 Penn State, it was only fitting that the Ivy action at the league tournament would be so competitive.
“I think we knew coming in that this was a wide-open tournament,” Princeton head coach Chris Sailer said. “Certainly, we want to win it, but we felt that any of the four teams could really win this tournament. There’s so much parity in the league right now, and so many teams are playing so well right now. I mean, you look at last weekend, when Ivy teams knocked off the No. 1, 2, 4 and 13 teams in the nation, we knew it was going to be competitive out here in all the games.”
For much of Sailer’s 25-year tenure at Old Nassau, an Ivy tournament would have made little sense, as Ivy women’s lacrosse was essentially Princeton, Dartmouth and everyone else. Now, however, that’s clearly not the case, as the Tigers came into the tournament as the fourth seed.
“There used to be a time when all of our Ivy games, we could count on an easy day,” Sailer said, “and win it by 10 or 12 goals. That’s just not the case any more. There’s a lot of good players and good teams in the league. Despite all the challenges we have in recruiting and in limited practice and things like that, you still are able to see three or four Ivies in the top 20 nationally, which is great for our league, and speaks a lot to the players that play in this league.”
Princeton’s powerhouse days could seem especially distant to a senior class that came into the 2011 season never having beaten Penn, the school’s archrival in every sport that both schools compete in. However, after handing the Quakers their only Ivy loss during the regular season, the Tigers came out and did it again.
“My first three years here I never wanted to come to Franklin Field,” senior attack Lizzie Drumm said, “but it means a whole lot as a senior to come here and get the win.”
Harvard, meanwhile, has not been a major player in the League in recent memory, as schools like Cornell, Yale and most recently Penn have risen up to join Princeton and Dartmouth among the elite, both in the Ivy and in the national picture. However, under fourth-year head coach Lisa Miller, the Crimson have been steadily improving, playing tight games with the likes of Penn, Stanford and Virginia, and got a historic win on Friday by beating Dartmouth for the first time since 1994.
“It’s huge,” junior Tyler Petropulos said. “We just keep growing as a program. It’s so exciting. Last year at this time we weren’t even in the tournament. This year we are and we are going to the championship on Sunday. Now we have a shot at getting into the NCAA’s. It’s really exciting.”
Even though her team will be on the outside looking in on Sunday, Penn head coach Karin Corbett can appreciate the excitement of the league tournament.
“It’s great,” Corbitt said. “I think it is really exciting for the players to have a tournament. Just having that Friday/Sunday venue, so that if you do get to the final four you have done it before. It’s just exciting. You would lose early in the league and you have that chance to win it again and to get that automatic bid. Hopefully, we will get in [to the NCAA tournament] and that will allow at least two teams into the NCAA’s and that was a big reason why we wanted it. Obviously, when you win the Ivy League outright you don’t really want it, but it does help the League.”
And, on Sunday, it will help Harvard or Princeton.