This fall, the Princeton University field hockey team will be opening its sparkling new Bedford Field, a state-of-the-art Astroturf facility adjacent to the Class of 1952 Stadium.
In the view of Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, the team’s new home should prove sweet for players and fans alike.
“The field is amazing,” said Holmes-Winn. “It plays so beautifully; you get true bounces. All the technology is there, no detail was spared.”
The Tigers boast a bevy of glittering stars who should light up the Bedford scoreboard this season, highlighted by the return of All-American performers, Katie Reinprecht, Julia Reinprecht, Michelle Cesan, and Kat Sharkey.
The quartet took a leave of absence from the program last year to train with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the London Olympics. The Reinprecht sisters ended up starring for the U.S. at the London games while Cesan was an alternate and Sharkey was one of the last players cut from the squad.
Understandably, Holmes-Winn has welcomed back her big four with open arms.
“The chemistry off the field has been great since they got back; the transition has been seamless,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the 2012 Penn Monto/NFHCA Division I Preseason Poll.
“On the field, they bring leadership and poise at the highest level and they are extremely hard workers. Those are qualities that are really important.”
The pair of junior Cesan (26 goals and 16 assists in her first two seasons) and senior Sharkey (69 goals and 22 assists in her career) will bring plenty of quality to the Princeton attack.
“They are more mature physically and better athletically and they were already pretty athletic,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team opens its 2012 campaign by playing at No. 5 Duke on August 31 and at 13th-ranked Wake Forest on September 2.
“They have added more dimensions to their games. Sharkey is very sharp; she got to work on her conditioning and game because she didn’t go to the Olympics. Cesan is still working back into it after being at the Olympics. They are both such physically strong players.”
The Tigers will deploy Cesan and Sharkey along with a pair of blue chip sophomores, Allison Evans and Sydney Kirby. Evans tallied 11 goals and five assists last fall in earning second-team All-Ivy League honors and the league’s Rookie of the Year award while Kirby had nine goals and eight assists in making second team All-Ivy.
“Allison was on 70 percent of our corners last year and we will team her up with Sharkey at striker,” said Holmes-Winn, who guided a gritty Tigers squad to a 10-8 mark in 2011 and the program’s seventh straight Ivy crown and 17th in the last 18 years.
“Sydney Kirby and Cesan will be outside mids; they overlap and come up front. We are playing a different style; the girls are still figuring out where the spaces are. We have the potential to be dynamic.”
Holmes-Winn will also be using senior Molly Goodman, senior Charlotte Krause, junior Allegra Mango, and freshman Maddie Copeland, a former Stuart Country Day and Peddie star, on attack.
In the central midfield, Princeton will be relying on senior star Katie Reinprecht to trigger the action. In her first three seasons with the Tigers, Reinprecht piled up 44 goals and 31 assists on the way to earning Ivy Player of the Year awards in 2008 and 2009.
“Katie Reinprecht is a playmaker, she finds spaces like no one I have seen,” asserted Holmes-Winn, noting that freshman Teresa Benvenuti should also make an impact as an offensive midfielder.
“She finds teammates; she knows when to ask for the ball. She brings a lot of pace.”
Reinprecht’s younger sister, junior standout Julia, will play a dual role from the back of the Tiger midfield.
“Julia Reinprecht will be at the bottom of the midfield,” added Holmes-Winn of the younger Reinprecht, who has tallied 14 goals and 20 assists in her first two college campaigns.
“She will have a lot of opportunities to overlap. She is an exceptional playmaker and we don’t want to limit her to defense. She has always been a calm player. She is one of the better mobile defenders in the country.”
The Tigers boast some outstanding defenders in junior Amanda Bird, junior Kelsey Byrne, and senior Amy Donovan.
“Amanda Bird is really versatile; she is a dangerous finisher,” said Holmes-Winn of Bird who tallied nine goals and three assists last fall.
“Kelsey Byrne is another versatile player. We can play them on the back line and in the midfield. Amy Donovan played mainly on the left last year but could see time on the right side this year.”
At goalie, the Tigers have three players who should see time in returning junior starter Christina Maida together with sophomore Julia Boyle and freshman Anya Gersoff.
“Maida looks great,” said Holmes-Winn of Maida who posted a goals against average of 1.88 in 2011.
“All three goalies look good. We hope to establish a top two by October. We want to be able to give all of them opportunities for game action. All have different strengths and weaknesses. We are lucky to have three really good goalies.”
In order to produce a really good season, the Tigers will to have maximize their strengths.
“The defenses will be stingy and packing things in,” said Holmes-Winn, who has posted a 110-56 record in her first nine years guiding the Tigers.
“We need to execute on attack and on penalty corners. We need to have numbers in front of the field. We need to understand the system, knowing who is overlapping and when. We also have to pay attention to details like nutrition, rest, and managing stress.”
As Holmes-Winn looks ahead to the team’s season-opening weekend, she knows the Tigers will be placed under plenty of stress.
“Duke is going to be amazing; they are deep with lots of speed,” said Holmes-Winn.
“It will be a great test. It will expose us; it will give us a lot of information. Wake is really dynamic physically. They are good finishers; they will be organized, without a doubt. We will have to be smart. We need to manipulate the attack but still have cover on defense.”