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Vol. LXII, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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SAILING LESSON: Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer consoles former standout and current assistant Elizabeth Pillion during the 2005 season. Last month, Sailer was named as one of eight 2008 inductees for the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Sailer has posted a 282-96 record in her 22 years at Princeton and will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on November 10 in Hunt Valley, Md.

Princeton’s Sailer Gets Surprise Package, Stunned by Selection to Lax Hall of Fame

Bill Alden

Chris Sailer came home a few weeks ago to find a Federal Express package unexpectedly lying on her doorstep.

Upon opening it, the longtime Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach learned she had received a surprise package some 22 years in the making — the notification of her selection into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

“I didn’t have any idea I was being considered; it was a total surprise,” recalled Sailer, who has posted a 282-96 record in her 22 years at Princeton and will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on November 10 in Hunt Valley, Md.

“I was excited but shocked. It is special; it is the highest honor within the sport. It encompasses all levels, players, coaches, and officials.”

Sailer was a bit of a surprise package when she arrived at Princeton in 1987.

“I was really fortunate to get the opportunity; I didn’t have much coaching experience,” said Sailer, a 1981 graduate of Harvard where she starred at field hockey and lacrosse.

“I had coached in high school for three years; I had helped out at Penn while doing some graduate study. I had played in the Ivy League. I had a lot of respect for the league and the quality of lacrosse played there.

Noting that she learned a lot from her college coach Carole Kleinfelder, Sailer tried to emulate the hallmarks of the Harvard program.

“I didn’t have any grand notions of success,” said Sailer, who was taking over a program that had gone a combined 6-33 in the previous three seasons. “I was looking to play top competition, expecting a lot from the players; setting the bar high and getting kids as driven about the sport as I am.”

Princeton didn’t experience a lot of success in Sailer’s first two seasons, going 3-9 in 1987 and 7-7 the next year.

In 1989, the Tigers had a breakthrough season, going 14-3 and advancing to the NCAA Final Four.

Sailer points to that season as a pivotal campaign in her tenure. “That was definitely a turning point; the kids were good,” added Sailer. “I was lucky that there was a good class of freshmen already there when I arrived.”

By 1994, the Tigers were the class of the country as they won the national title, topping Maryland 10-7 in the championship game.

“That was huge,” said Sailer, reflecting on the season with saw Princeton go 16-1.

“Kim Simons was a real big recruit for us; she was the first very high profile player who decided to come to Princeton; she was at another level. She was so mentally tough; she was not everybody’s best friend on the field. The kids rallied around her; we were just fortunate to have so many good athletes.”

Sailer felt fortunate to reach the top of her sport’s mountaintop. “It was really rewarding; it was everything you are working for,” said Sailer, a native of Haverford, Pa, who is already a member of the athletic halls of fame at Harvard and Haverford High as well as the USLacrosse New England and Philadelphia/Eastern Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.

“It was also a statement for the players who had come before and had given everything they had to build things.”

Princeton reached new heights in 2002 and 2003 when it became one of the few programs in women’s lacrosse history to win back-to-back national crowns.

“We had a great class of recruits; we were able to recruit some really good players,” said Sailer. “In 2002, we had seven seniors playing together. They loved to play together; they pushed each other. It was a dream season.”

For Sailer, the relationship she has forged with her players makes coaching a dream job.

“That’s the best part of the job, getting to work with players,” said Sailer.

“College is such a formative part of their identity and to have a positive influence and help them achieve things is very special.”

Not resting on her laurels, Sailer is already looking forward to achieving some special things next season.

“I am excited about having such a strong senior class; they all play and they are great leaders,” maintained Sailer, whose 2008 team went 13-5 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.

“The challenge increases every year; the number of programs is growing and the recruiting timetable in the Ivy League makes it tough. There are a lot of kids who have already committed before we can try to recruit them. Princeton will always attract athletes who are serious about sports and academics; they compete hard while still upholding the values of the place.”

Players who are the whole package, just like their Hall of Fame coach.

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