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|Sandra Whyte, left, and A.J. Mleczko|
"Before the game, everyone was so loose, hanging out in the locker room--you never would have known that this was the Olympic gold medal game," says Sandra Whyte '92. Three periods later, she and 19 other Americans were wearing the first gold medals ever awarded in women's ice hockey, having beaten Canada 3-1. Whyte assisted on the first two U.S. goals and scored the third, an empty-netter, with eight seconds remaining. For her, the win climaxed six years of playing hockey on U.S. national teams. "It was such a feeling of release," she says. "We had been trying since 1992 to win the big game."
Sharing the feeling was teammate A.J. Mleczko '97, who, like Whyte, had two goals and two assists at the Winter Games. At 5 feet, 11 inches, Mleczko was the tallest woman in the entire U.S. Olympic delegation. She took a two-year leave of absence to prepare for the Olympics, a choice she calls "by far the toughest decision of my life. But I didn't want to have any regrets. I wanted to give myself the best shot I could at making the team."
Speaking of shots, 91 of Mleczko's shots for Harvard have found the net, making her the Crimson's all-time leading scorer. (In second place is Whyte, with 85.) Mleczko will surely add to her record total this fall, when she returns for her senior year. Her sister, Priscilla "Winkie" Mleczko '95, also starred on the ice for the Crimson; both grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut, and learned to skate from their father, an ice-hockey coach.
"A.J. is amazing--she's an amateur in the true sense," says Whyte. To maintain eligibility, Mleczko had to pass up grants and stipends from USA Hockey, $15,000 in "Operation Gold" money that the U.S. Olympic Committee gives each gold medalist, and the chance to appear on Wheaties cereal boxes with her teammates. (Only 15 of the 20 hockey champions will actually be on the box; since Wheaties earns money from the image, players who wished to retain their amateur status had to pass up the photo, according to NCAA rules.) But Mleczko simply says, "I'm so excited to go back and play for Harvard." Nor does she rule out the next Winter Games in 2002.
Whyte will be on the Wheaties box; she is currently doing post-Olympic appearances. An anthropology concentrator and lifelong Saugus, Massachusetts, resident, she plans to look for a job once the ice chips settle.
That prospect does not face the team's coach, Ben Smith '68, whose contract with USA Hockey continues well into the future. Smith had been assistant coach for the U.S. men's team at Calgary in 1988, and headed Northeastern's men's hockey program for five years before taking the national-team job. "I didn't see too many differences between coaching men and women. Part of me said, 'What am I missing here?'" he chuckles.
Smith skated for Harvard and still plays in a town league that has no age restrictions. He went into coaching right after college and has never looked back. Of his gold-medal squad, he says, "They all wanted what they thought would be best for the team. I've coached a lot of ice hockey teams, and this year's group, whether or not they were the best players, was the best team I've ever had."
~ Craig Lambert
|Harvard teammates celebrate after their historic upset of Stanford. The huggers here are Jill Zitnik '01, left, and Suzanne Miller '99. AP Photo/Aaron Suozzi|
The national television debut for Harvard basketball was a grand one. Having locked up their third consecutive Ivy championship, the women's basketball team (23-5, 12-2 Ivy) proceeded to stun the nation. With their 71-67 upset of Stanford, they posted the first-ever win by an Ivy League school in the women's NCAA postseason tournament. Harvard also became the first number-16 seed ever to oust the number-1 seed in the history of both the men's and women's NCAAs.
As she has all season, the nation's leading scorer, Kodak all-American Allison Feaster '98 (who averaged 28.5 points per game this year), dominated the action against Stanford--pouring in 35 points, seizing 13 rebounds, and making three steals. Admittedly, two Cardinal stars were sidelined with injuries. Yet they did have all-American forward Olympia Scott on the court, where, on a crucial play late in the game, she felt the sting of Feaster's defense. Off a defensive rebound, Stanford's point guard launched a long bomb upcourt, intended for Scott and an easy deuce. But Feaster, hot in pursuit, materialized and leapt high in the air to intercept the pass, then moments later stashed a lay-up
of her own that brought Harvard within one point of Stanford. The play sparked a game-ending 9-2 Harvard run that silenced the noisy Stanford crowd, which saw their 59-game home winning streak snapped as the Crimson ended Stanford's bid for a fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA's Final Four.
In the second round of the tournament, Feaster had another big night (well, actually, an average night, for her) with 28 points and 11 rebounds, but the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks outclassed the Crimson, 82-64. So ended the most spectacular season in the history of the Harvard women's basketball program, along with the college career of its most spectacular player.
The men's basketball squad (13-13, 6-8 Ivy) closed out their season on a high note with home wins over Yale and Brown, the latter a 111-63 blowout. In the 81-77 win over Yale, captain Mike Scott '98 hit a torrid 11-for-13, netting 26 points. He ended his career the next night with a hand that was still smoking, as he shot 8-for-9 from the floor against Brown.
The netmen have now matched the Harvard record for wins over a three-year span (45), and their .577 winning percentage over that time ranks second in the Ivies only to Princeton. Scott, the team's leading scorer, was an Honorable Mention all-Ivy selection, and teammate Tim Hill '99 was a Second Team choice. Dan Clemente, a 6-foot, 7-inch freshman who led the league in treys with 48, was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Junior guard Mike Beam set a Harvard record and finished fourth nationally in three-point field goal percentage (.513). With Scott the team's only senior, prospects look strong for next winter.
|All-American 134-pounder Dustin DeNunzio scores a takedown against Army. Photograph by Tim Morse|
The Crimson grapplers (12-6-1) finished fourth at the EIWAs, their highest finish ever. Harvard sent four wrestlers--James Butera '98, Dustin DeNunzio '99, Ed Mosely '99, and Francis Volpe '00--to the NCAA tournament. By finishing sixth in the 134-pound class, DeNunzio became the program's first all-American in 15 years. The team placed twenty-ninth in the tournament, and coach Jay Weiss was voted EIWA Coach of the Year.
The men's hockey squad (14-17-2, 4-5-1 Ivy) closed out their hundredth season with a strong run up the ice. In the ECAC quarterfinals, the Crimson knocked off Colgate twice, 4-2 and 5-4, to advance to the semifinals in Lake Placid, New York. There, they lost to Clarkson, 6-2, but returned in the consolation match to beat ECAC regular-season champion Yale, which had outscored Harvard twice earlier in the year. The Bulldogs were first on the board, but then Harvard rained four unanswered goals past Yale's Ken Dryden Award-winning goalie, Alex Westlund, to come out on top, 4-1. Freshman Steve Moore led the icemen in scoring this year with 33 points on 10 goals and 23 assists.
In the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the women's hockey squad (14-16-0, 2-6 Ivy) came close to pulling off a major upset before falling, 2-1, to New Hampshire, the eventual national champions. Sophomore Crystal Springer came up big in goal, stopping 38 shots. Three wins at the end of the regular season over Boston College, Princeton, and Yale brought Harvard into the playoffs, and helped rack up the largest Crimson win total in nine years. Freshman Angie Francisco led the squad in scoring with 57 points, followed closely by the 51 points of classmate Kiirsten Suurkask. Suurkask led the Ivy League in scoring with 10 goals and six assists, and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
Track and Field
Both the men's (4-0) and women's (3-1) track and field teams had fine winter seasons. Freshman Dora Gyorffy (see "The Gyorffy Ballet," March-April, page 74) became an all-American by high-jumping 6 feet, 3/4 inch, at the NCAA meet to finish third in the nation. It was the highest finish by a Harvard woman at the nationals in eight years, and the highest ever by a Harvard freshman. Nonetheless, Gyorffy, who had been sick at the beginning of the week, asserted, "I didn't jump as high as I wanted."
She had jumped even higher at the Heptagonals two weeks earlier, where she set a personal best by clearing 6 feet, 3 1/4 inches. That leap not only won the Heps, but set new Harvard and meet records. Gyorffy also won the triple jump, and was named the meet's outstanding performer.
The women swimmers (8-2, 5-2 Ivy) took third at the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships, behind Brown and Princeton.
In their best-ever performance, the men's swim team (9-2, 8-1 EISL) finished eleventh nationally at the NCAA meet, a big step up from last year's eighteenth-place finish. Nine Crimson aquamen raced, and smashed four team records in the process. Mike Kiedel '98 was involved in all four new marks. He took fifth in the 500-meter freestyle, posting a 4:19.30 in the heats for a new Harvard record, then set another Crimson mark in the 200-meter freestyle at 1:34.94. In the 400-meter freestyle relay, Harvard took fifth place in 2:55.75, recording another new mark.
But the dramatic race was the record-breaking 800-meter freestyle relay. Matt Cornue '98, Aleksey Kurmakov '99, and Eric Matuszak '98 got the Crimson into sixth place after three legs; then Kiedel, swimming anchor, passed three swimmers to seize third place in 6:25.92, beating powerhouse Stanford among others. Individual performances earned all-American status for Kiedel and Matuszak, as well as Tim Martin '98, Greg Wriede '99, Denis Sirringhaus '99, and David Schwartz '98.
The aquamen also took a third straight Eastern Intercollegiate Swim League title, their sixth in seven years. The Crimson dominated the meet, stroking their way to a 123-point margin over second-place Princeton. The victory made Harvard the Ivy League champions, since a change implemented last year awards the league title to the Eastern champion, rather than via records in dual meets.
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