Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 41
 
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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WORLD CLASS: Princeton University senior midfielder Diana Matheson controls the ball in action from a previous season. Matheson recently returned to Princeton after competing for Canada in the Women’s World Cup and has given the team a big lift. Last week she piled up two goals and five assists in helping the Tigers to a 5-1 win over Rutgers on October 2 and a 4-1 win at Brown last Saturday. She was named the Ivy League Player of the Week for her efforts.

With Matheson Back Running the Midfield, PU Women’s Soccer Ready for Ivy Title Run

Bill Alden

As the Princeton University women’s soccer took the field last week for its annual clash with Rutgers, it was clear that a memorable evening was in the cards.

First, there were several TV cameras in the stands of Princeton Stadium since the game was being broadcast on CSTV.

Princeton head coach Julie Shackford entered the evening needing one win to earn the 137th victory of her Princeton tenure and pass Jimmy Reed as the school’s winningest soccer coach.

The Tigers’ superb senior midfielder Diana Matheson was playing her first home game since competing for Canada in the Women’s World Cup and she needed an assist to tie the program’s all-time mark of 20.

And Tiger assistant coach Ron Celestin was in the stands, watching the team for the first time since suffering a stroke that nearly took his life.

Six minutes into the game, it looked like Rutgers was going to spoil the evening as it scored to take a 1-0 lead. But minutes later, Princeton answered as junior Aarti Jain fired in a 25-yard blast to knot the game. The first half ended in a 1-1 stalemate but the tide was turning to Princeton as it outshot the Scarlet Knights 7-3 in the first 45 minutes.

After intermission, Princeton hit high gear, buzzing all over the field, scoring four unanswered goals on the way to a satisfying 5-1 rout of Rutgers, improving to 4-4-1 after a 0-4-1 start.

Matheson picked up four assists to achieve her school record and help Shackford make history.

The diminutive Matheson was not carried away about her place in Princeton soccer history. “My mom is really excited about it,” said a smiling Matheson, referring to her new career mark. “I’ve played with a lot of great players here so it has been very easy.”

Matheson was far more excited about the fact that Princeton crushed Rutgers after having trouble with the Scarlet Knights in recent years.

“That was a fun win, especially since we lost to them in tight games the last two years,” said Matheson, who is serving in her second season as a team co-captain. “We definitely needed that.”

It took a little while for Princeton to find its stride but once it did, it produced some of its best quality of play of the season.

“I think the first 10 minutes, we had to get out some nerves but we settled down after our second goal,” said Matheson, who assisted on goals by Jen Om and Marci Pasenello in the second half with Pasenello notching another goal and a fourth goal coming on an own goal off a Rutgers player. “We totally relaxed and started knocking it around. We had our possession going well and we just played some really good soccer.”

Matheson is happy to be back on the pitch with her Princeton teammates. “You get on the field and it’s just soccer,” said Matheson, who scored two goals and added an assist last Saturday as Princeton won 4-1 at Brown to win its fifth straight and improve to 2-0 in Ivy League play. “I’ve played with a majority of these players before so it’s nice getting back together.”

“It’s a big blur,” said Matheson, who was named Ivy League Player of the Week for her heroics last week. “It was great; the experience was priceless. It pays off down the road in games like this.”

It certainly pays off for Shackford to have Matheson back in the Tiger lineup. “It’s so clear to see the difference that she makes for us,” said Shackford, who, like Matheson, wasn’t all that carried away with her record, noting that she isn’t focused on her career win total.

“I don’t want to put extra pressure on her but she is the cog in the wheel for us. She keeps everyone honest. She’s a coach on the field; she makes sure that everybody works hard and that they take care of their defense.”

Matheson’s influence helped sophomore Pasenello who produced one of the best performances of her Princeton career.

“That was great to see,” said Shackford. “I could see fire in her eyes yesterday; she was our best player in practice. Her shortcoming has been her defense. In high school, she didn’t have to play defense and in the last season and a half she has become committed to playing harder defense.”

The presence of Celestin helped spark the Tigers collectively. “The great thing was that Ron showed up on the sideline; I think everybody was excited,” said Shackford of Celestin who has been her assistant since she took the helm of the program 13 seasons ago.

“He stroked, he was touch and go for a couple of days. There were a couple of days where it was: is he going to make it? It was about a week and a half that was really tough on the kids. Now he’s coming out of it. He showed up for the first half tonight which was really neat.”

Shackford is hoping that her team can keep its neat play as it heads into the meat of its Ivy schedule.

“We really controlled possession tonight there for long stretches, we really got into a zone,” said Shackford. “If we can possess, we’ll be fine going forward. We need to finish our chances and just be sharp like we were today.”

In Shackford’s view, this year’s team has what it takes to get Princeton atop the Ivies for the first time since the 2004 team’s historic run to the NCAA Final Four.

“This is the first season since 2004 where you feel that this team is really committed to doing that,” asserted Shackford, whose club will look to keep rolling when it hosts Columbia on October 13. “We have leadership, we have good depth at a lot of positions on the field, and our mentality is pretty good.”

Matheson, for her part, thinks that Princeton has a championship mentality. “We’ve been rebuilding for the last couple of years,” said Matheson.

“We are at the level where we want to win the league and we can win the league. We have a really strong team that is going to compete in any game.”

With Matheson back to compete in the midfield, Princeton could produce a slew of special memories as the season unfolds.

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