Chris Sailer didn’t have to wait until this spring to start feeling good about her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.
“Going back to the fall, we were further ahead at that point than we have been in years,” said longtime Princeton head coach Sailer, a Hall of Famer who has 314 career wins as she enters her 26th year at the helm of the program.
“I feel like we picked up last fall where we left off in the spring. The team has a really good energy about it. There is a positive approach and good intensity in every practice.”
Last spring, the Tigers ended the season on a positive surge that saw them win six of their last eight games, prevailing in the Ivy League tournament and advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals as they finished with a 12-7 record.
As Princeton looks forward to opening its 2012 season with a game at Villanova (1-0) on February 25, Sailer is welcoming back plenty of firepower on attack.
Leading the way will be junior Jaci Gassaway (33 goals and 13 assists in 2011) along with senior Barb Previ (17 goals, eight assists) and junior Sam Ellis (16 goals, 11 assists).
“Jaci has been doing a great job; she will be the leader of the attack group” asserted Sailer, who also plans to use sophomores Mary Kate Sivilli and Grace Bowen in her attack unit.
“We are expecting a big season from her, she continues to get better and better. Previ is a sparkplug; she makes things happen in transition. Her value comes in doing the little things, getting ground balls and helping with the connection game. She sets up her teammates and does things that don’t show up in the box score. Ellis has had some injuries but she is starting to turn it on.”
Promising freshman Erin McMunn figures to turn some heads this spring at attack.
“McMunn is doing great,” asserted Sailer of the native of Westminster, Md. who helped the U.S. win the U-19 World Championship last summer.
“She has incredible hands, she has a sure stick right or left. She has good vision; she is going to make an impact.”
The Tigers boast some impact players in the midfield with senior Cassie Pyle (38 goals, 19 assists), junior Charlotte Davis (27 goals, nine assists), and sophomore Sarah Lloyd (15 goals, 12 assists).
“She is hard to contain one versus one and on defense, her quick feet are a big help,” said Sailer of the second-team All-Ivy performer from Alexandria, Va.
“Charlotte Davis brings such energy to the team. She is a really competitive player. She has speed and she can score. Lloyd is just getting back from mono. She is looking awesome; she is really fit and confident with the ball. Erin Slifer has been fantastic. She played on the same club team as McMunn, they were quite the pair. She is tall and strong.”
On defense, Princeton features some strong leaders in senior All-American Lindsey deButts together with senior co-captain Cathy Bachur and junior co-captain Caroline Rehfuss.
“Lindsey is the backbone of the defense; she has experience and vision,” said Sailer, noting that deButts is on the mend from a hip injury.
“We need to get her back as soon as possible. Bachur is really solid. We moved Rehfuss to defense from midfield; she can make big plays.”
Sailer notes that sophomores Liz Cutting, Colleen Smith, and Erin Williams are “chomping at the bit” to see more action.
The biggest question mark for Princeton coming into 2012 is at goaltender, where the Tigers are replacing graduated star Erin Tochihara and Sailer is deciding between freshman Annie Woehling and sophomore Caroline Franke as the new starter.
“It is hard to replace Toch, we can’t ask either of them to be Toch,” said Sailer of Tochihara, who ended her stellar career by posting a 10.18 goals against average last spring.
“Annie has the edge right now. She is pretty solid and consistent. She is good out of the cage on ground balls and interceptions. Caroline is good on positioning. She is a lefty which can be a problem for shooters. She is a big, solid kid and plays the angles well. I think they will both see action.”
In Sailer’s view, the team’s success will depend in large part how it plays around its goalie.
“I think this team has good potential,” said Sailer. “The defense has to play well because there is going to be a new goalie no matter what. We have to deny high percentage shots. We also have to put some points on the board; we have an offense that is capable of doing that.”
As the Tigers prepare for their season-opening clash at Villanova, who beat Wagner 16-7 last Saturday in its first action, they are concentrating on themselves more than their foe.
“I feel like in the first game the focus is on you and what you are doing and not the other team,” said Sailer, whose team is ranked seventh in this week’s Inside Lacrosse national media poll.
“Our theme this year is having a mindset where we don’t focus on the outcome or the score but on one play at a time.”