Miller's Opportunistic Play Provides a Spark As Tiger Field Hockey Gets Off to 2-0 Start
By Bill Alden
With the Princeton University field hockey team trailing visiting Virginia 1-0 late in the first half Friday in the debut for new Tiger head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, things were starting to get a little edgy at Class of 1952 Stadium.
Although Princeton had produced a flurry of shots employing Holmes-Winn's high-pressure, attacking style, the Tigers just couldn't seem to convert.
Then with just over two minutes remaining in the half, junior attacker Lizzie Black got the Tigers on the board, sending them into the dressing room with a 1-1 tie and a major shot of momentum.
Minutes into the second half, senior co-captain Claire Miller built on that momentum as she lashed in a rebound to score what turned out to be the decisive goal as Princeton started Holmes-Winn's tenure with a 3-1 win.
In the view of Miller, a first-team All-American midfielder in 2002, the Tigers needed to make a statement on opening night.
"There was a lot that we wanted to show tonight," said the diminutive but sleek Miller as she assessed the triumph. "We're just about an entirely new team. We have a new coaching staff and a lot of players from last year are gone. I think a lot of teams around the country were wondering where we are going to be right now."
Based on the win Friday and a 5-1 romp over Drexel the next day, the Tigers appear to be adjusting to their new system as they look to add to their streak of nine straight Ivy League titles.
"There was a lot of pressure on the attack, we're an offensive-minded team now," said Miller, a Scarsdale, N.Y. native who had 17 points last season. "We didn't put 'em all in but the stats were there, I think we had a lot more corners and shots than Virginia. We kept the ball in our offensive end for chunks of time."
As for her game-winning tally, Miller acknowledged that the goal was more the result of good fortune than pressure. "That was pretty much being in the right place at the right time," said Miller with a laugh. "I was lucky to have the goalie kick it off her pad right to me. I can't take much credit for that."
A beaming Holmes-Winn, however, maintained that Miller deserved plenty of credit for Princeton's solid debut. "Claire is so steady," said Holmes-Winn of her midfielder who made the goal scoring list again Saturday against Drexel along with Shahrzad Joharifad, Ashley Sennett, Lauren Quinn, and Lauren Ehrlichman. "She is such a great leader. She is very poised out there, she was excellent tonight."
The new coach was happy with her team's collective poise. "I think we prepared really well," said Holmes-Winn, whose squad outshot Virginia 16-10. "For the most part, we kept our form out there and ran our patterns. They stayed disciplined which is difficult to do, especially in the first game."
While Holmes-Winn was happy with the result, she acknowledged that the team is still adjusting to her approach. "Shot selection is certainly something we're going to work on," said Holmes-Winn, who was a three-time All American in her field hockey career at Iowa and currently serves as the head coach of the U.S. Under-16 National Team.
"They're doing a good job of adjusting to my style. It's a matter of rotation and being able to play with all 17 players. That's going to be a challenge, it's going to take a bit for us to work through that."
Miller, for her part, is dedicated to helping the team reach its full potential as she goes through her final collegiate campaign. "Cory [Picketts] and I definitely have a sense of desperation, we know this is it," said Miller referring to her co-captain as she looks ahead to the Tigers' home games with Yale on September 13 and Penn State on September 14.
"We're all really trying to make the most out of every second out here. We've tried to make that the theme, not just for the seniors but for the whole team. Celebrate what you have right now and appreciate our time together."
Based on how the first weekend of the season went, it looks like Miller and her teammates may have a lot to celebrate this fall.