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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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SEVEN UP: Princeton University field hockey players, from left, Charlotte Krause, Sydney Kirby, and Kelsey Byrne, celebrate a goal in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, the Tigers enjoyed a raucous celebration as they topped Penn 3-0 to clinch a seventh straight Ivy league title.

PU Field Hockey Shows Resilience In Winning 7th Straight Ivy Crown

Bill Alden

It wasn’t the ideal way for the Princeton University field hockey team to start its quest for a seventh straight Ivy League crown.

With its four top offensive threats taking a leave of absence this year to compete for the U.S. national team, the Tigers looked liked they were missing something as they opened their Ivy campaign by falling to Dartmouth 2-1 in mid-September.

But in the view of Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, the loss was the wake-up call the team needed to develop its own identity without its superstars.

“I think if we hadn’t lost that game, we would have lost another league game,” said Holmes-Winn whose team is without the services of All-Americans Michelle Cesan, Kathleen Sharkey, and the Reinprecht sisters, Katie and Julia.

“We changed structure and tactics; we shifted people. It made us look at ourselves in a more critical way.”

The outgrowth of that reassessment has been a hot streak that saw the Tigers reel off five straight Ivy wins coming into their league finale last Friday evening at Penn.

Princeton was tied with Yale atop the league and needed a win over the Quakers to clinch a share of the title and the league’s berth for a NCAA tournament play-in game against the champion of the Northeast Conference (NEC).

“We were just excited to play for the championship and be in that position,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team had gone 5-2 overall since a 6-2 loss to Maryland in September. “We had a pretty solid October.”

In the clash with the Quakers last Friday, the Tigers didn’t get off to a solid start as they found themselves knotted in a scoreless draw coming into the second half.

“I was calm at halftime,” said Holmes-Winn. “We were getting shots and opportunities. We changed our shape in the midfield to get better opportunities. We wanted to keep our defensive shape and not give up a silly goal.”

It took 18 minutes into the half but Princeton finally broke through as sophomore Amanda Bird scored off a penalty corner.

Bird struck again 13 minutes later with a second tally on a corner and Molly Goodman sealed the deal with an insurance goal in the last minute as Princeton prevailed 3-0 and clinched its 17th league title in the last 18 seasons.

Considering what Princeton has gone through this fall, the title felt sweeter than the program’s normal waltz to the Ivy crown.

“We were so excited; we have overcome so much,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team improved to 9-7 overall and 6-1 in Ivy play, tying with Yale for the title but earning the spot in the play-in game due to a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs.

“We lost 90 percent of our offense; trying to figure out how to score in those gaps has been monumental. There are not many teams in any sport that could lose four top players like that and still do well. What this team has achieved is extraordinary; they have maintained poise and composure.”

Sophomore Bird has produced some extraordinary hockey down the stretch, tallying six goals and an assist in Princeton’s last five games.

“October has been the month of Amanda Bird; she and Sydney Kirby have been the leading scorers in the league games,” said Holmes-Winn.

“She has been really tremendous on both sides of the ball. She took over the Cornell game and set the tone in the second half. She told me going into the Penn game ‘I am going to score two goals today.’ It is great to have people who have that courage and attitude.”

Holmes-Winn has seen a good attitude collectively from her team as it has produced its late surge.

“Every single player has improved,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “Every time they have stepped on the field they have gotten better.”

In the view of Holmes-Winn, the leadership provided by her seniors has been key to that improvement.

“They have been outstanding,” said Holmes-Winn, whose crew of seniors includes Rachel Neufeld, Alyssa Pyros, Erin Jennings, former Princeton High standout May-Ying Medalia, and Allison Behringer.

“They had to figure out the voices on the team, what to say, and when to say it. Each one of them brings something special to the table. Rachel brings a spark to the attack. Alyssa is an inspirational player; you know she will give her all. Jennings is the composed leader on the field. May-Ying has been steady and reliable on the field and great off the field. Behringer has also given us a lot.”

Princeton’s special run continued last Tuesday as the Tigers edged NEC champs Rider 1-0 in double overtime in the play-in game.

“We are playing our best hockey; I wish we had a few more weeks,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team will start play in the NCAA tourney later this week. “This is the most organized we have been all year.”

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