Liberty pulls off another overtime win, taking down No. 14 Harvard in thrilling fashion

The sun glared down on the pitch Friday afternoon, but the Lady Flames field hockey team did not mind the heat and pressure of yet another overtime affair. In emphatic fashion, the team overcame the situation once again, downing the No. 14 Harvard Crimson 2-1, to the delight of the home crowd.  

“We knew coming in that Harvard is a phenomenal team,” Liberty Head Coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game watching them on film, and I think I was mostly excited about the mentality that we came out with … We checked that box off starting on the front foot today.”

The Flames entered this game with plenty of momentum, after winning all four of their matchups to start the season. Despite this, the first few minutes of the game were testy as Harvard dominated possession and pressured Liberty’s defenders with attacking play. 

The Flames defense held strong, keeping Harvard from getting a clear shot off, and as the first quarter progressed the tables turned. Around the two-minute mark of the first quarter, Liberty earned a penalty opportunity which we would see come up short minutes later.

But it was only a warning of what was coming next.

Liberty’s first goal came with just six seconds left in the first quarter when the Flames were awarded another penalty. Excellent passing resulted in a wide-open graduate forward Milagros Arteta who slotted it into the bottom left corner of the cage. This was her second goal of the season, and it provided Liberty with some breathing room going into the second quarter.

But the battle was not over.

The second quarter featured only three total shots with both teams becoming more aggressive. Harvard collected three penalty corners in the quarter, creeping back into the game and putting pressure on Liberty’s defense once again. The Flames defenders, however, refused to relent. 

“I think the way that we’re defending this year is special for sure,” Parsley-Blocker said. “We’re generating a lot of turnovers by sending that hard pressure to ball … There’s a lot of seasoned players back there.”

The third quarter continued the defensive stalemate, with both teams fighting to get a foothold in the game. The rising intensity and pressure in the third period resulted in a yellow card for graduate defender Bethany Dykema. 

A green card was also shown to sophomore defender Gianna Miller during the quarter, and Liberty was forced to play at least one player down for five straight minutes. During those five minutes, the Flames did not allow a single shot attempt from the Crimson.

Both team’s attacks began to find life in the fourth quarter, with 12 shots fired in the fourth period alone — most of which flew wide of the target. 

Both goalkeepers were called into action on multiple occasions, but it was not until the final two minutes of the game that Harvard broke through Liberty’s defense. After receiving a penalty, Harvard pulled their  senior goalkeeper, Sofia Castore, and the extra attacker helped them to find the back of the cage off of a tipped shot.

With the late Harvard equalizer, the game was destined for overtime and Liberty’s unbeaten streak was seriously threatened. The Flames, however, showed no sign of angst after the late goal. Rather, the team kept its spirits up, exhibiting encouragement and energy — something that Parsley-Blocker feels is a strength of this year’s group. 

“That failure-recovery system, we call it ‘So what, next play,’” Parsley-Blocker said. “One person says, ‘So what’, and the next person says, ‘I’m with you,’ … We can’t win (a) game if we don’t have that response to (a) failure.”   

With the blistering heat shining down on the pitch, the Flames pulled off yet another feat. After earning a penalty with over a minute left in the first overtime, senior defender Jodie Conolly collected the ball off the sweep and provided the perfect set for junior midfielder Martu Cian to fire home the game-winning shot past a sea of Crimson. 

The Flames embraced each other in joy, relishing in the achievement of triumph over another ranked opponent. 

“There’s definitely a poise. We’ve been to overtime in three of the games so far,” Parsley-Blocker said. “(Overtime) is tough, it’s brutal. But I definitely think they attacked it with the right mindset.”

The win on Friday extends Liberty’s win streak to five straight games and places it at 3-0 in overtime and shootouts this season. After losing to Harvard 2-1 back in 2019, Liberty tied the all-time series at 1-1.

After defeating the Crimson, the Flames travelled to North Carolina to face off against the No. 13 Duke Blue Devils, in what would become another overtime matchup. The Blue Devils would prevail over the Flames’ 2-1, giving Liberty its first loss of the new season. The Flames’ sole goal scorer was Arteta, who tallied her third goal of the season. 

The Flames now sit at 5-1 as they prepare for a Friday matchup against interstate opponent Old Dominion.

Moore is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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