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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

PASSION PLAY: Princeton University women's soccer star Emily Behncke celebrates after scoring a goal in the NCAA tournament last season. Behncke contributed 13 goals to help spark Princeton's dramatic run to the Final Four. The Tigers will be depending on senior co-captain Behncke to provide plenty of offense as they start their 2005 campaign this Friday when they face UCLA in Miami in a Final Four rematch.
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With Behncke Now Feeling Comfortable at Forward; Tiger Women's Soccer Has Strong Leader Up Front

By Bill Alden

Emily Behncke wasn't thrilled when she was moved up to forward last fall from the center midfield spot she had held the previous two seasons for the Princeton University women's soccer team.

"It was a difficult transition at first," said Behncke, who had been the 2002 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Ivy selection as a midfielder the next season.

"I played center mid all my life; I loved the position. I didn't really feel like I belonged up front. It took me until the Harvard game to get comfortable."

In that game against the Crimson, Behncke fired in a late game-tying goal and then assisted on the winning goal in overtime.

The Williamsburg, Va. native went on to score a total of 13 goals and earn first-team All-Ivy honors at forward as Princeton went on its unprecedented run to the NCAA Final Four.

Behncke's total would have tied the program record for most goals in a season if her partner at forward, Esmeralda Negron, had not smashed the record by scoring 20 goals.

With Negron having graduated, Behncke knows that she will have a bull's eye on her back when Princeton kicks off its season this Friday when it travels down to Miami to play UCLA, the team it fell to in the Final Four.

"In terms of experience, I'm the one they will be going after" said Behncke, who may end up as the team's sole forward if the Tigers adopt a 4-5-1 formation.

"Playing next to Es, other teams were so focused on her that they left me free. It's definitely going to be more of a challenge but after playing the position a couple of years, you're willing to accept that."

Behncke is ready for the challenge of being a co-captain of a team that only returns four starters. "I'm honored to be a team captain," asserted the genial Behncke with her ready grin.

"Coming off a year like last year, we need strong senior leaders. I definitely feel more responsibility on my shoulders. If a practice is not going well, you're somewhat responsible to lift the mood and get everyone going."

In the view of Princeton head coach Julie Shackford, Behncke possesses a rare blend of intensity and affability that should lift the team's mood.

"In my 14 or 15 years coaching I don't think I've ever coached anyone who is so competitive and so nice," said Shackford, referring to Behncke.

"To be in the position she is in, that is a perfect combination. She is so passionate but she is never without a smile on her face. I think with an inexperienced team, that kind of dynamic is more important and probably better than a more in your face player."

This Friday night, Behncke will bring plenty of passion to the field in Miami as Princeton looks to avenge last year's 2-0 defeat to UCLA which ended the Tigers' magical 2004 season.

"There are always games in a season that you focus on because they didn't go well the year before," explained Behncke, who enters her senior season with 60 career points on 25 goals and 10 assists.

"We've been thinking about UCLA since last December 4. I think everybody is excited about it. They are a really athletic team; they always give you a good game. We can make a statement with that game."

Following in the footsteps of older brothers Griff and Matt, who were both All-Ivy stars for the Princeton men's soccer team, Behncke is primed to make a statement in the family's last season in a Princeton jersey.

"My brothers told me this is your last shot; you make of it what you will," said Behncke, who played with the Player Development Academy's college training program this summer in preparation for her last go-around.

"You have to go out there everyday and try to be the best player on the field. I think that is good advice that any leader can take."

Now that she is comfortable playing forward, Behncke will be leading from the front for the Tigers.

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