Vol. LXI, No. 31
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
GAUCHO GRILL: Princeton University senior field hockey star Paige Schmidt swats the ball in the Tigers' win over Harvard last October. In mid-July, Schmidt and her teammates went on a week-long trip to Argentina where they sharpened their skills and did some team bonding. The Tigers, the defending Ivy League champions, hope the trip will put them ahead of the game when they open their 2007 season by playing at American University on September 2.
As Princeton University field hockey head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn and her players sat in the Atlanta airport last month, it looked like their dream trip to Argentina had turned into a nightmare.
After the originally scheduled tour in March was cancelled due to a snowstorm that paralyzed the eastern seaboard, Holmes-Winn and her players learned that the July trip was being delayed due to snow in Argentina.
"We were in the airport and we heard that the flight was delayed for an hour," recalled Holmes-Winn. "Then we heard it was because of snow. We were told that it hadn't snowed in Argentina in 81 years; I was starting to wonder if fate was against us for this trip."
Fortunately, fate turned Princeton's way as the storm ended and the flight was cleared to take off.
While the Tigers were greeted with crystal clear fall-like weather with temperatures in the 50s and 60s, things were a little stormy in the field for the visitors on their week-long tour.
Princeton fell 7-1 in its opener to St. Catherine's. The Tigers then lost 3-2 to the CASI hockey club and ended the trip with a 4-1 loss to St. Catherine's.
Holmes-Winn saw the losses as a valuable learning experience. "They just play really fast because of the way they execute the basics," said Holmes-Winn.
"They pass and receive the ball with a lot of precision. In the first game we were on our heels a little bit. That was part of the reason we went on this trip; we wanted our players to be exposed to that."
Holmes-Winn liked the way her players responded to the challenge of the Argentine teams."We got it together pretty quickly," said Holmes-Winn, noting that Princeton's foes had been playing for about 10 weeks.
"I think for us the games underscored that there are five weeks before preseason starts and that we have a long way to go before September 2 and our first game (at American University). I think it increased our urgency ten-fold. It washed away any complacency they may have had. There is competition within the team; people know they will be fighting for playing time."
Princeton should be ahead of the game when it convenes for preseason practice on August 23.
"We have three games under our belt," added Holmes-Winn. "We were able to ascertain things that we wouldn't have been able to get from practice. You can't simulate games in practice. We know the system we will be running."
As an extra bonus, Princeton got some good work from Sarah Reinprecht and Candi Arner, who were coming off injuries.
"Sarah played with stress fractures all fall," said Holmes-Winn.
"She didn't practice one day in October. She only started playing hard again in June. She made the Under-21 national team and then went on the trip. She played in the middle of the field and looked really good. Candi was out due to injury all last season. It's good to have her back. She is so gifted. She is great at decision-making; she doesn't make mistakes."
Goalkeeper Cindy Wray, who will have the task of following the graduated Ali Nemeth in the cage, has also made progress. "Cindy has been a pleasant surprise," said Holmes-Winn. "In our spring season, we didn't give up a penalty corner goal in seven games. You have to give the defense credit but Cindy is also doing something."
Off the field in Argentina, the team enjoyed many pleasant moments. "We loved the Gaucho ranch," remembered Holmes-Winn, whose team was based in Buenos Aires and, among other things, went to a pro soccer game, did a river cruise, indulged in shopping sprees, and gorged on steak dinners.
"Everyone was in traditional costumes; we got to ride horses and have a barbecue."
Sharing those moments deepened the bonds of an already close-knit squad. "The experience was tremendous," said Holmes-Winn. "I think it was very special to be together like that, being away from our usual environment."
And Holmes-Winn is hoping that togetherness will help her squad produce a very special season.
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