After taking a leave of absence from the Princeton University field hockey team over the last year to play with the U.S. National Team and compete in the Olympics, Katie Reinprecht was not sure what to expect upon her return to the Tiger program.
“I was a little nervous, I thought it was going to be weird, seeing that I didn’t know two whole grades that are here,” said senior midfielder Reinprecht. “It was definitely a little different than it has felt in the past.”
It didn’t take long for Reinprecht to get back in the swing of things upon her return to Princeton last month.
“It is amazing how natural and familiar it feels once you get into it,” said Reinprecht. “It was pretty seamless.”
Last Sunday, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year displayed her familiar excellence, scoring a goal and assisting on the game-winner as fourth-ranked Princeton edged visiting Richmond 2-1 in the first game played on Bedford Field.
Reinprecht and her teammates were excited to christen the program’s sparkling new facility.
“I feel fortunate to be here for its opening year; it was pretty cool,” said Reinprecht, whose clutch play helped the Tigers improve to 4-0.
“I think today we were a little frustrated with our performance for the opening game. They played us really well today, give them a lot of credit. They had energy the whole game. They definitely gave us a good matchup. It was a good competitive environment.”
Although Reinprecht made history by scoring the first goal at the field, she acknowledged it wasn’t a play for the highlight reel.
“I actually almost screwed it up,” said Reinprecht with a laugh. “I got a little lucky to be honest. I saw I had to take it on my reverse and get it off any way I could.”
Even though Princeton found itself locked in a 1-1 tie with 10:15 left in the second half, Reinprecht was confident that the Tigers wouldn’t screw things up.
“It’s hard not to get a little alarmed but I felt confident in our playing style, the players on our team, and the talent that we have that we would be able to come back and get the win,” said Reinprecht.
“Obviously it is not something you want to have to do with 10 minutes left in the game. It is a good test of our mental strength, I think.”
On the game-winning goal, Reinprecht displayed her strength as a playmaker as she set up Allison Evans’ tally in the waning moments of the contest.
“I saw Sharkey cutting across the top and they were all flocking to her and I knew I could sneak in behind,” recalled Reinprecht.
“She found me on a really nice pass and then there were three Princeton girls in front of the goal and I just had to pick one of them.”
In Reinprecht’s view, the Tigers are off to a really nice start this fall. “That was our goal for the first phase of the season; we wanted to come out and get four wins,” said Reinprecht.
“I am happy with the start we have had in terms of the competition we have matched up against. I think we are excited with the start, especially since we are starting a little later being an Ivy League team.”
While Reinprecht wasn’t excited by the U.S. team’s 12th-place finish at the London Olympics, she believes that competing at that level can only benefit her in the long run.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience; I will definitely never forget it,” said Reinprecht, who was joined on the U.S. team by younger sister and fellow Tiger star, Julia.
“It is something I want to do again. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted but the Olympic experience is more than the two-week tournament. It was really the year building up for me. I learned so much about the hard work it takes to really improve as a player and how you need to push yourself.”
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn certainly appreciates the work she gets from Reinprecht.
“Katie has such an engine, physiologically she is just a machine,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “The work that she does on both sides of the ball is spectacular.”
Holmes-Winn acknowledged that Richmond (3-2) gave the Tigers a run for their money on Sunday.
“I give them a lot of credit,” said Holmes-Winn. “What is concerning to me is that we had 14 shots and we only made the keeper play the ball twice. That’s something we look at but there were some really good patches of hockey. We played possession really well. I think we manipulated their structure in a way that we talked about.”
Despite its 4-0 start, Princeton needs to get more out of its possessions. “If someone told me the issue with our team would be finishing that would be a real shock to me but it has been our issue in these past couple of games,” added Holmes-Winn.
“It is just figuring out how to be more effective with our numbers; that will be a big key to that. We have players who are playing well; it is just a matter of breaking through and getting our mojo on attack. We certainly have the personnel to do it. It is just a matter of having that moment where here it is. We haven’t had that and that will come. These guys need to get away from thinking so much, There is a lot of information transferred in the first couple of weeks and now we have to pull back and let them play.”
With Princeton bolstered by the return of the Reinprecht sisters together with Michelle Cesan and Kat Sharkey from national team duties, the Tigers are going to get the spirited play from their foes.
“A lot of it is team dynamic and chemistry,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team opens Ivy League play by hosting Dartmouth on September 15 and then hosts Delaware a day later.
“I feel that it is good that the opposition is going to perceive themselves as the underdog in just about every game. When you are an underdog, I think there is a very clear task orientation and I think for us to have to play against that certainty is amazing. It is good that there is that elevation that is going to occur from the opposition which will make us better in the long run.”
Reinprecht, for her part, believes that the four returners will help Princeton elevate its game on a daily basis.
“We probably demand more out of them than they may be used to because we are used to having that demanded of us,” said Reinprecht,
“I know there is a lot of talent in the four girls who came back, that is just one thing. I think just mentally and personality wise we brought some good flavor back to the program. We have overarching goals and then smaller goals. We have high hopes.”