Vol. LXI, No. 19
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
It was an emotional rollercoaster for Kathleen Miller last Sunday as she played in her last home game for the Princeton University women's lacrosse team.
In the pregame ceremony before Princeton's clash with No. 8 Georgetown, the demonstrative Miller laughed and smiled at some points but then wiped away tears as game time approached.
Just over two hours later, senior attacker Miller was shrieking with joy along with her teammates after scoring with 57 seconds left in regulation to provide the margin of victory as Princeton outlasted Georgetown 12-11.
The riveting win helped Princeton, now 10-6 overall, earn its way into the NCAA Tournament where it will travel to third-seeded Virginia (16-3). The winner will advance to the NCAA quarterfinals to face the victor of the North Carolina-Richmond clash.
The game this Sunday marks the rematch of last year's first round game in which the Tigers avenged an earlier lopsided loss to the Cavaliers by upsetting Virginia 8-7. The team played earlier this regular season with Virginia eking out a 9-7 triumph.
Miller acknowledged that the uncertainty of Princeton's postseason status coming into the Georgetown game had emotions at the breaking point.
"It was all over the place," said Miller, who tallied four goals and an assist in the victory. "It was weird, especially for the senior class because we had never ended a season with the ambiguity of whether we were going to be in the tournament. When we were getting ready, it was this could be our last warm-up together. This could be the last everything for our class and the whole 2007 season."
Princeton came within an eyelash of seeing its season end at the hands of the Hoyas. The Tigers built a 7-3 lead in the first half only to see Georgetown roar back to go ahead 9-8 with 15 mi-nutes left in the second half.
The game was knotted at 9-9 and 10-10 before goals by Kristin Schwab and Miller gave Princeton a 12-10 advantage. Georgetown scored with 19 seconds left but couldn't get another scoring chance. After the final buzzer, the Tigers mobbed each other in a raucous on-field celebration.
Miller and her teammates knew they would have to produce a stellar effort to match the challenge presented by the Hoyas.
"We decided that we are going to play our way into the tournament," said Miller. "The Georgetown games have always been pretty good. We knew that they weren't going to let up from start-to-finish. They have great players; they are going to give it everything they have so we had to give it everything we had."
Miller's winning goal on a feed from close friend Alex Gangler was everything she could have hoped for. "I could not have been more excited," said Miller.
"I couldn't have asked for anyone else to give me that ball. I can't say how happy I was that it was Alex. She is my best friend; it was perfect. She and I have been chomping at the bit all year for the Georgetown game."
Miller has been chomping at the bit to step up her scoring down the stretch as she has scored 15 points in Princeton's last three games to give her a team-high 62 points on 45 goals and 17 assists.
"I think it's one of those things where I have come to the realization that I have to step up and be a big part of our offense," said Miller, who now has 205 points in her Princeton career to tie her with Lauren Simone for fourth all-time in program history.
"It's a huge challenge as a senior and a captain. I can't think I'm going to just sit back and work it for everyone else. I have to have an impact myself. It's the last bit of lacrosse I'm going to have so I might as well make the biggest impact I can."
While Miller has succeeded in stepping up her production, she made it clear that she's not a one-woman show. "The whole team as a unit has been smart and playing really well," said Miller.
"We have been creating space and opportunities for each other. The only reason I have any goals is because my teammates help me out. They clear out so I can go one-on-one; they feed me the ball."
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer credits Miller with sparking a late-season surge which has seen the Tigers win four of their last five games.
"Since the middle of the season, Kathleen has really been performing great," said Sailer. "She has stepped up and become the kind of player we knew she could be. Her play has been a huge factor in why we are having a strong second half."
While Miller has led the way, the Tigers have been displaying some good offensive balance. "We had goals from a lot of different people," said Sailer, who got four goals from Katie Lewis-Lamonica and two from Schwab together with one apiece from Gangler and Ashley Amo.
"It was nice. Alex has been playing really well in practice so we decided to give her a start. She made a big difference for us."
The Tiger defense also came up big against the Hoyas as freshman goalie Katilin Perrelle recorded 10 saves to help hold Georgetown All-American Coco Stanwick in check.
"Kait come up with some really big saves for us," added Sailer. "We did a pretty good job on Stanwick. She had one empty-netter and one on an 8-meter."
Sailer is hoping her club can make a big tournament run. "I think we are starting to see what's possible for us," asserted Sailer, who has guided Princeton to three national titles in her 21-year tenure. "We just want the season to continue to see how far we can go."
Miller, for her part, is looking for things to come full circle in her career. "When we came in as freshmen, we didn't lose a single game during the regular season; it was completely uncontested as to whether we were No. 1," recalled Miller.
"We got all the way and our only loss was to Virginia in the NCAA championship game. It's a matter of the senior class wanting to bring it back to where we came in. We want to help out the program. There is a lot riding on this and we want it so badly."
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