Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 9
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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HITTING THE GAS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Jaci Gassaway eludes a defender last Saturday in Princeton’s 9-8 win over No. 20 Johns Hopkins in its season opener. Sophomore attacker Gassaway scored two goals in the victory, including the game winner with 3:40 left in regulation.

Gassaway Puts Last Year’s Frustrations Behind; Sparking PU Women’s Lax to Opening Day Win

Bill Alden

For Jaci Gassaway, her freshman season last spring with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team turned into a series of frustrations.

The attacker was hampered physically as she recovered from knee surgery, unable to go full speed.

The Tigers struggled collectively as they went 6-10, suffering through the program’s first losing season in 23 years.

As 19th-ranked Princeton opened its 2011 season last Saturday against visiting No. 20 Johns Hopkins and found itself trailing 5-3 at halftime, Gassaway and her teammates were determined to show that they had learned from last year.

“The message was that we were going to win this game; we are just tired of losing,” said Gassaway, recalling the team’s meeting at intermission.

“We just came out with a mindset that we are not losing this game and we knew we needed some goals.”

The 5’9 Gassaway got the Tigers rolling as she tallied 1:09 into the second half, lofting a long shot past an out-of-position Hopkins goalie.

“It seemed like she was far enough out,” said Gassaway, referring to Hopkins goalie Cosette Larash.

“Maisie [Devine] was doing a good job of keeping her occupied there so I just threw it in.”

Gassaway’s goal triggered a 5-0 Tiger run which saw Princeton build an 8-5 lead and seemingly gain control of the contest. The Blue Jays, though, scored three straight goals to knot the game at 8-8 and it was time for Gassaway to take matters into her hands again.

Taking a feed from classmate Charlotte Davis, Gassaway buried a shot into the back of the net with 3:40 left in regulation that proved to be the game winner as Princeton pulled out a 9-8 nailbiter.

“That is a play we use a lot off of our orange set,” said Gassaway, breaking down her winning tally.

“It works really well against a defense caught on the other side of the crease. I had been shooting and hitting the goal post the entire game so I was tired of that.”

Gassaway is thrilled to be able to go full throttle once again. “My knee feels really good,” said Gassaway, a Severna Park, Md. native who scored seven goals last spring in limited action.

“I am more comfortable and just a lot quicker. I am able to run the entire game which I wasn’t able to last year.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer felt it was really good for her club to get 2011 off to a good start.

“Getting a win against a good opponent in our first game is huge,” said Sailer, whose team started the game by jumping out to a 2-0 lead.

“You could see what a battle it was; our kids just kept in it. Even when we got a lead, we lost a lead, we got a lead, we lost a lead; we didn’t get discouraged. We kept playing hard, we played really smart.”

The Tigers showed their tenacity and brains as they started the second half with their 5-0 run.

“We wanted to create more space offensively,” said Sailer, whose team scored three goals in the first six minutes of the second half.

“We got a little stagnant offensively and we were really crowding. We needed to spread it out more; we thought we could take it to them in transition so we wanted to look downfield quickly and we did that right off the bat. We got those quick goals so the transition game really came alive in the second half.”

At the defensive end, Princeton came alive when necessary. “Our defense was able to make the adjustments it needed to make down the stretch,” said Sailer, crediting senior goalie and co-captain Erin Tochihara with providing a big spark with some big stops on her way to a 12-save effort.

“I am really happy for our kids that we played well down the stretch and we were able to pull it out. We are just impressed with how hard they hustled and competed. We are all about the team this year.”

That team mentality was reflected by an offensive balance with the scoring spread among several players.

“It was really nice,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Barb Previ, Charlotte Davis, and Cassie Pyle in addition to the pair tallied by Gassaway. “We feel like we have a lot of kids who can put the ball in the net and I think you saw that today.”

It was nice for Sailer to see big production from Gassaway. “Jaci has just had a great sophomore preseason,” said Sailer, whose team, now ranked 17th, plays at Rutgers on March 2 and at No. 6 Duke on March 5.

“She was injured most of last year and she was hampered in what she could do. This year she is feeling good and you can just see it in how confidently she is playing. She is a big target for us on the offense; she just plays so poised and so confidently now.”

Gassaway, for her part, is confident that the win over Hopkins is a harbinger of good things to come this spring for the Tigers.

“Our big theme is that each game is a puzzle piece so we are going to fill the entire season with the pieces and this is the first step,” said Gassaway.

“We are going to put last year behind; that doesn’t describe this team. We are going to give everything we have in every game. We have a never-give-up mentality and so much energy. It was really encouraging for the rest of the season.”

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