Princeton Women's Lax Opening Season, Hungry to Go on Another Special Journey
By Bill Alden
This past December, the Princeton University women's lacrosse team embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure as they headed down under to Australia for a 10-day excursion.
In the view of Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, the Tigers benefited both on and off the field from the journey that featured four games, including three against the Australian national team.
"The caliber of competition was so high," recalled Sailer. "The Australian national team was so competitive; they forced us to read the game better. They were great in transition; we had to learn how to slow things down. We had bonding you can't have here between players with players and players with coaches."
Sailer is hoping that the Australian experience will come in handy this Saturday as the Tigers host Johns Hopkins in their season opener in what could be the first stop of a special 2005 journey.
Having reeled off 19 wins last spring before falling to Virginia 10-4 in the NCAA title game at Princeton Stadium, the Tigers will hit the field Saturday with a special motivation.
"There is a hunger," said Sailer, who is in her 19th season at Princeton and has guided the Tigers to national titles in 1994, 2002, and 2003 and a total of 11 Final Four appearances.
"But we're facing the reality that we've lost a lot of veteran players. We're trying to find a line-up. We have a lot of players with some experience who will get big opportunities this year. I see us as a work in progress. We have high goals, the way things ended last year has motivated us."
While Princeton has lost such stars as first-team All-Americans Theresa Sherry and Katie Norbury to graduation, Sailer still has plenty of talent on hand in a squad that is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll.
On attack, the Tigers will rely heavily on senior Lindsey Biles, a first-team All-American in 2004 who scored a team-high 71 points in 55 goals and 16 assists.
"Skill-wise and shooting-wise, Lindsey is such a threat, with or without the ball," said Sailer, noting that Biles has been struggling with a nagging knee injury.
Sailer will be looking for two seniors, Leigh Slonaker and Ingrid Goldberg, to provide Biles with some support up front.
"Leigh started for us as a sophomore and Iggy started as a junior," said Sailer, who is also looking for a boost on attack from freshmen Katie Atkins and Ashley Amo.
"They both have good experience. They need to raise their games and become good options for us. It's a challenge and an opportunity."
In the midfield, Sailer is happy to have the opportunity to put senior Elizabeth Pillion in her starting lineup. "Pillion is so competitive, she's such a force," said Sailer of the senior All-American who scored 51 points last spring on 34 goals and 17 assists.
Another key performer in the midfield figures to be sophomore Kathleen Miller, who scored 45 points last season on the way to being named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
The Tigers also could get a major lift from the speedy Katie Lewis-Lamonica, a former star at the Lawrenceville School.
"Lewis-Lamonica is off to a good start," asserted Sailer, who added that she is looking for sophomores Christine Dobrosky and Alex Gangler together with junior Caitlin Abidin to also contribute in the midfield.
"She is doing a good job at both ends; she really gets the defensive positioning. She's a hard worker; she won't leave the field until she gets it right."
On defense, Sailer is looking for junior Lauren Vance to be the anchor. "Lauren has a great presence," said Sailer of the junior who was a second-team All-Ivy selection last season. "She is really vocal, she is a great leader."
Others who should see considerable action on defense for Princeton include senior Jenny Austin, sophomore Caitlin Reimers, and freshman Allison Murray.
In goal, the Tigers will be in good hands with senior Sarah Kolodner, a four-year starter. Last season, Kolodner gave up just 5.82 goals a game as she earned second-team All-Ivy recognition.
Sailer noted that sophomore goalie Colleen O'Boyle has made great strides and that freshman Meg Murray is also promising between the pipes.
Sailer knows that her club is facing a major challenge in its opening day clash with Johns Hopkins, who was ranked seventh nationally in the preseason poll and routed Davidson 15-4 last weekend in its season-opener.
"They were in the top eight last year and they have a dynamo attacker in Mary Key," said Sailer in assessing the Blue Jays. "We and everybody else expect them to be competitive."
Sailer expects her team to be very competitive as the season unfolds. "The expectation is always to play well and be the best team we can be," declared Sailer.
"We're trying to be a great team. If we can do that, we should be in there with a shot at the Final Four. We're younger so we have a ways to go. We feel like the kids will respond."
If the players respond like Princeton teams in the past, the Tigers could go to some special places this spring.