Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
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PUTTING UP THEIR DUKES: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Cassie Pyle heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Pyle scored two goals to help Princeton edge James Madison 11-10 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The victory over the Dukes improved the Tigers to 12-6 and set up a quarterfinal contest at top-seeded and defending national champion Maryland (19-1) on May 21.

PU Women’s Lax Edges JMU in NCAA Opener; Earning Shot at No. 1 Maryland in Quarterfinals

Bill Alden

For the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team, its game at James Madison University in mid-March turned out to be one of its worst days of the season.

Falling behind 6-1 in the first half, the Tigers absorbed a 10-5 loss in Harrisonburg, Va.

So when Ivy League champion Princeton learned that it was getting a return trip to JMU last Saturday for a first-round NCAA tournament clash, it was primed for a second crack at the eighth-seeded Dukes.

“We were happy with the matchup and the seed; we knew we could play a whole lot better than the first time we played them,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.

“We came out flat last time and we are a much different team now than we were two months ago. We were confident that if we played our game, we could beat them.”

That confidence proved well-founded as the Tigers enjoyed one of its best days of the spring last Saturday, edging JMU 11-10 in a thriller.

The win improved Princeton to 12-6 and set up a quarterfinal contest at top-seeded and defending national champion Maryland (19-1) on May 21.

In the rematch with JMU, the Tigers didn’t waste any time showing that things were going to be different in round two as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

“That was huge; that was much different from the first game,” said Sailer, whose team made the quarterfinals in 2009 but then suffered through a 6-10 campaign last spring. “We had a lot more energy.”

The Dukes, though, made an energetic response to Princeton’s early surge, going on a 7-1 run to take a 7-5 lead.

“Lacrosse is a game of momentum and they came roaring back,” said Sailer. “They are a feisty team; we had to weather that. There were a lot of momentum shifts.”

In the last four minutes of the half, the Tigers regained some momentum as they scored two unanswered goals to make it 7-7 at intermission. “Getting the two goals before that half was huge,” said Sailer.

“I called a timeout because I didn’t want to see a 4-0 lead turn into being behind by three or four goals at half.”

The mood was good at half. “We knew what we had to do and the changes we had to make on defense,” recalled Sailer.

In the second half, the Tigers came out sharp at both ends, outscoring the Dukes 4-1 over the first 22 minutes of the period.

“We came out strong and kept chipping away; we got that three-goal lead and I thought we could run with this,” said Sailer. “But they were able to get a goal and then we had a turnover on our stall and they got another goal.”

The last few minutes of the contest turned harrowing for the Tigers as JMU furiously applied the pressure as it looked to force overtime.

“Toch [Erin Tochihara] came up with two big saves at the end, the last one was a point blank one with 17 seconds left,” said Sailer of senior goalie Tochihara, who made eight saves on the afternoon.

The triumph triggered a joyous celebration on the field as the Tigers screamed for joy and hugged each other.

“It is just really great; last year was tough for everyone,” said Sailer, reflecting on the meaning of the win.

“We are not used to that; we had a lot of young players. This is a new season, a new group with new energy. We don’t talk about last year.”

The team’s progress has energized Sailer, who is in her 25th year at the helm of the Tigers.

“They have focused on what they could do as a group; the chemistry has been great,” said Sailer, whose squad has now won five games in a row.

“As a coach, it is nice to see them get better. It is a fun group to work with; I am so happy to be back in the quarters.”

Princeton has not been nice to its foes, employing a tenacity which has fueled its late-season run.

“They have confidence in themselves; they have been in a lot of different situations in league play,” added Sailer, whose team rose to No. 12 in the final national poll of the regular season. “They enjoy playing together; they have no fear whatsoever when they go out on the field. They are fighters.”

The team’s sum is greater than the parts as offensive balance has become a hallmark of the 2011 Tigers.

“We don’t have one superstar,” maintained Sailer, who got three goals from Charlotte Davis in the win over JMU with Cassie Pyle and Lizzy Drumm chipping in two apiece and Jaci Gassaway, Sarah Lloyd, Maisie Devine, and Caroline Markowitz scoring one each.

“Lizzy is outstanding and has had a great year. Toch has played consistently; she has backed us up when we have needed it. We do have talent across the board on attack.”

The Tigers will need a big effort across the board as they look to turn the tables on a Maryland team that beat Princeton 17-10 on April 13 in a regular season contest.

“We outshot them; we won the draws and we were right there on ground balls,” said Sailer.

“Those are some of the key stats you look at. But they dominated on the scoreboard. They are such a potent offense. We would control tempo on our end and then they would go down and score in three seconds. It was not Toch’s best game. They did keep getting point blank shots. They are strong in the crease; they have a lot of speed with good cutters and good feeders.”

With Princeton playing its best lacrosse of the season, Sailer is looking forward to the rematch.

“We didn’t stop their stack or 1-on-1 stuff, I think that’s key,” said Sailer.

“We got a lot of shots but they weren’t the best shots; we need to work for better shots. We are playing our best so this is a good time to play Maryland.”

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