Unheralded Sundheim Tallies Overtime Goal To Lift Princeton Women's Lax Into Final 4
By Bill Alden
The runaway train that has been the Princeton University women's lacrosse team this spring found itself in grave danger of being derailed last Sunday.
With six minutes left in their NCAA tournament quarterfinal matchup against visiting Dartmouth, the Tigers trailed 5-3 as their big guns Theresa Sherry and Lindsey Biles had been stifled by an aggressive Big Green defense.
With a perfect season, a program-record winning streak of 26, and a chance at a national title three-peat all hanging in the balance, Princeton dug deep to show its championship resolve and depth.
First, senior attacker Sherry finally got loose in front of the cage and scored an unassisted goal with 5:20 left to narrow the margin to one. Then senior Tara Hardiman, a first-year starter, found the back of the net with 4:32 left to knot the game at 5-5 and force an eventual overtime session.
Early in the first extra period, unheralded sophomore reserve Jamie Sundheim fired home a feed from freshman star Kathleen Miller to put the Tigers ahead 6-5 in what turned out to be the final score as Princeton advanced to its fifth straight Final 4.
By avoiding what would have been one of the more monumental upsets in the history of NCAA women's lacrosse, Princeton now finds itself in the enviable position of hosting the Final 4 at Princeton Stadium where it will face Vanderbilt on May 21. The national title game will be played two days later at the same venue.
For Sundheim, her moment of glory came down to making a special connection with Miller. "It was just a matter of making eye contact with Kathleen and accepting the ball," recalled Sundheim, who came into the afternoon with just two goals and four assists on the season. "It's good to know that my teammates have confidence in me. I was confident I would score."
Despite trailing 3-1 at halftime and 4-1 early in the second half, Sundheim never doubted that the Tigers would somehow overcome the Big Green.
"I wasn't ready for the season to be over and I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the seniors," asserted Sundheim. "We have so much potential. I was confident this wasn't going to be our last game."
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer shared Sundheim's belief. "We've been in a couple of close games in the last two weeks, an overtime win against Maryland and a one-goal win against Brown," said a relieved Sailer, who got two goals from Hardiman and one apiece from Sundheim, Miller, Sherry, and Elizabeth Pillion.
"I think that experience really made the difference for us today. You can never count these kids out. I've learned to never doubt these kids, they do find a way."
Sailer, though, did acknowledge that bitter Ivy rival Dartmouth gave her plenty of uneasy moments. "We were really having a tough time against Dartmouth in the first half," said Sailer. "I thought that they had a great game plan. It's a shame someone had to lose that game. That game was so competitive."
Anguished Dartmouth coach Amy Patton acknowledged that Princeton's experience in NCAA competition tipped the balance in the hard-fought, physical contest. "I think the most critical factor in the end was just poise," said Patton with her voice cracking.
"I think we could've had better poise and Princeton did. They've won two national championships and I think that gives them confidence at the end of a game whereas we don't have that."
While Sailer credited her seniors with providing the leadership to help Princeton survive, she noted that several fresh faces stepped up.
"I think one of the things that was interesting today was that so many of the heroes out there were kids who didn't have much tournament experience," said Sailer, citing the contributions from Miller and Hardiman.
Sailer singled out Sundheim for special words of praise. "Jamie was fantastic today," asserted Sailer. "She sees the field so well, she's such a smart player. She has great eyes, great hands. She usually sets up a lot so it was cool to see her be the finisher this time. I know this game is going to give her a good boost going into the Final 4."
Sundheim, for her part, believes that the whole team will get a boost from having fought off the challenge from Dartmouth. "I think this bodes well for our team," said Sundheim, reflecting on the Tigers' rally. "It's nice because it shows that we can come from behind, that gives us confidence for future games. It comes from believing in ourselves and believing that we can do it."
Last Sunday, Sundheim certainly showed
she can do it when it matters most.