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Vol. LXV, No. 46
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING TOGETHER: Princeton University field hockey senior co-captain Alyssa Pyros goes after the ball in a game earlier this fall. The leadership and solid midfield play provided by Pyros, a first-team All-Ivy selection, helped Princeton earn its seventh Ivy League crown even though its four top scorers took a leave of absence this fall to compete for the U.S. national program. The Tigers ended the season at 10-8.

Princeton Field Hockey Fights to Final Whistle; Falling to UConn in NCAAs to End Special Run

Bill Alden

There was no time left in regulation and the Princeton University field hockey team had no chance of winning as they trailed No. 4 Connecticut 3-1 last Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

But the Tigers were awarded a last-second penalty corner and they were determined to make the most of it.

Sophomore midfielder Kelsey Byrne banged the ball home to make the final margin 3-2 as the Tigers ended the fall with a 10-8 record.

While the goal may have seemed meaningless, the tally epitomized the meaning of a season which saw Princeton rely on character as much as talent in winning its seventh straight Ivy League title.

With its four top scorers taking a leave of absence to compete for the U.S. national program, Princeton had to revamp its structure and approach to emerge from an Ivy dogfight that saw a five-way tie for first place in late October.

“We say all the time that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character,” said Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, whose team is without the services of All-Americans Michelle Cesan, Kathleen Sharkey, and the Reinprecht sisters, Katie and Julia.

“The kids are fighters; they love to compete to the end. The score is always 0-0, that has been our mantra for the last four years. We are not going to roll over.”

In the early going, it looked like UConn might roll past the Tigers as they built a 9-0 edge in shots and took a 1-0 lead into halftime.

“They were very good in the first half; we didn’t play the right shape,” said Holmes-Winn. “We were a little flat; we matched up better in the second half. We played with them; the possession was about equal.”

The Huskies doubled their lead to 2-0 early in the second half before Princeton answered with a goal at the 38:40 mark by freshman star Allison Evans which was assisted on by classmate Sydney Kirby. Some 10 minutes later, UConn scored to restore its two-goal advantage. Princeton kept pressing forward as reflected by the game-ending goal from Byrne.

In reflecting on her team’s second half performance, Holmes-Winn thought it was fitting that the quartet of Evans, Kirby, Byrne, and Amanda Bird were involved in the scoring plays.

“There was no surprise on the first goal, Evans and Kirby have been two of our best scorers and playmakers,” said Holmes-Winn. “The same thing on the last goal. Bird and Byrne worked together; they have really stepped up this year.”

For Holmes-Winn, the togetherness that her players developed in dealing with adversity made the fall memorable.

“This has been one of my favorite teams; I really enjoyed the girls on this team,” said Holmes-Winn, who completed her ninth season at the helm of the Tiger program.

“I am so close with the seniors; I enjoyed every single one of those girls. I can sit next to any of them and enjoy talking about their lives. They are comfortable being around us.”

That comfort level helped the coaches and players forge a deep bond. “More so than any year, we worked together,” maintained Holmes-Winn, whose group of seniors included Rachel Neufeld, Alyssa Pyros, Erin Jennings, Allison Behringer, and former Princeton High standout May-Ying Medalia.

“The seniors and coaching staff became one, they would come to our office and we would solve problems together. One of the biggest lessons we got from this season is that if we put all our heads together, we can come up with the best answer. All nine of us worked together; there was a trust and sense of community.”

The senior players helped the younger members of the Princeton field hockey community thrive.

“The seniors had a sense of belief,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “It was not just words, it showed in how they behaved everyday and in their work ethic. I think the younger players grew so much. We found out a lot of things about them, some good, some bad. They were open to being honest, you experience the most growth that way. Self awareness is a skill that can help them in every area of their personal lives.”

That growth should hold the Tigers in good stead when their quartet of super-skilled All-Americans return next fall.

“It is hard to let go of the seniors,” added Holmes-Winn. “I am still in mourning. I don’t want it to end, I feel a loss. But I am really excited about the prospects next year of putting a structure together.”

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