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Vol. LXV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOUGH CHALLENGE: Princeton University field hockey star Erin Jennings, right, challenges a Yale player in Princeton’s recent 3-2 win over the Bulldogs. Senior co-captain and midfielder Jennings has helped hold the Tigers together as they have dealt with the absence of four All-American players who are taking a year off from school to play for the U.S. national program. After starting 2-4, Princeton is currently 5-6 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League action. Princeton heads to New England this weekend where it plays at Brown (3-8 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on October 15 and at No. 4 Connecticut (12-1) the next day.

With Jennings Organizing the Midfield, Princeton Field Hockey Starting to Click

Bill Alden

On one hand, the Princeton University field hockey team had plenty of reason to be disappointed after falling in overtime to visiting Wake Forest last Sunday.

The Tigers battled back from a second half deficit to knot the game at 2-2 only to come up short as the Deacons broke through with 6:06 left in the first OT.

The defeat dropped Princeton back under .500 at 5-6 and snapped a two-game winning streak.

But senior co-captain and star midfielder Erin Jennings saw the performance as a step forward for a Tiger squad that is gaining momentum after a 2-4 start.

“I think we did a really good job playing; we played against a really talented team,” said Jennings.

“We were just talking about how we have made so much strides this season compared to how we played in the beginning of the season and how we played today even though we lost. There is a lot to hold our heads high about.”

With Princeton working in new faces as four of its top stars (All-Americans Kathleen Sharkey, Michelle Cesan, and the Reinprecht sisters, Julia and Katie) are on a leave of absence from school this year to play for the U.S. national program, Jennings and fellow senior captain Alyssa Pyros need to provide a special brand of leadership.

“Obviously they are phenomenal players and their presence is missed on our team; Alyssa and I saw it as a challenge and as an opportunity,” said Jennings, a native of Macungie, Pa.

“Alyssa and I have been fortunate enough to play on the field but for the rest of our team who hadn’t had this opportunity, especially the juniors and sophomores, it is time for them to step up.”

Having seen Princeton go 3-2 since late September with two overtime wins in Ivy League play in that stretch, Jennings believes those new faces are stepping up.

“We are a very young team, really a new team compared to last year,” said Jennings. “I think that we are finally clicking. We are just passing the ball better; we are working as a team better. I think that’s all that needed to happen; we are doing really well together as a team.”

It comes as no surprise to Jennings that the Tigers have found a rhythm. “It would be one thing if I thought our team had no talent but I genuinely believe that there are talented people who just haven’t gotten the chance yet,” said Jennings.

“I have never doubted our team’s potential from the beginning. It was kind of exciting just to see what we can do without them. We don’t hang our heads about those players not being there; we genuinely believe that we can do it without them. Even right now you can pick out anyone on our bench and they can play with the best. Just the fact that we have been playing so well these past couple of weeks, I am just so proud of them.”

Jennings experienced a proud moment last Friday when Princeton edged Virginia 2-1. In addition to starring in the midfield, Jennings finally bested triplet sister Rachel, a Virginia standout.

“That was the fourth time playing U Va since I have been here in my four years,” said Jennings, whose other triplet sister, Tara, plays for Duke.

“We had lost every single time until Friday. That was a huge win; U Va is also a really talented team. To beat a team like that says a lot about how much our team has grown and what potential our team has. We can still contend and play with the best in the country. I think we really showed it this weekend.”

As the battle-tested veteran in the Princeton midfield, Jennings has to show the way when it comes to formation.

“It’s funny because I am more like an organizer,” said Jennings, a honorable mention All-Ivy selection last season.

“I feel like since I moved to the middle of the field, I don’t get the ball as much but at the same time I am in control of so much more. I feel like Amanda Bird and I hold the shape. Our whole shape is based around our positioning; it is really important to keep that shape in the middle or everything else falls apart.”

With Princeton currently 2-1 in Ivy play, locked in a four-way tie for second place with Harvard, Yale, and Columbia behind front-running Dartmouth, Jennings knows the Tigers are in a tough position.

“It is crazy, the last three years, 99 percent of our Ivy games were blowouts,” said Jennings, reflecting on a Princeton dominance that has seen the program win six straight league titles and 16 of the last 17. “It is fun, it is a good challenge. I love close games; I think we all do.”

Not surprisingly, Jennings believes Princeton is up to that challenge. “We try not to think about any team or put a name on any team,” added Jennings.

“We try to approach everybody and do our best. Obviously we want to just come out there and dominate them if we can but we always try and play like it’s 0-0, no matter what the score is.”

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