While Kat Sharkey was disappointed when she didn’t make the U.S. Olympic field hockey team for the London Games after spending a year training with the national program, she wasn’t about to let that experience go to waste in getting ready for her final season with Princeton University team.
“Once I was released from training in California, I went home and really focused in on preseason and what I needed to do to be back at 100 percent mentally and physically for this team,” said Sharkey, a senior forward and tri-captain from Moosic, Pa.
“I think taking the year off made me even more excited to come back here and I really missed the team last year and it is just amazing to be back with everyone.”
For Sharkey, being immersed in the game for a year with the national team has helped raise the level of her play.
“I think as a forward, I really benefitted from the training in California with the national team coaches and playing internationally,” added Sharkey, who was joined in San Diego by Princeton teammates Michelle Cesan and the Reinprecht sisters, Katie and Julia.
“You really have to be pretty on with your shots and deflections to get that goal at the international level so I think I definitely learned through all that training. I think I have brought what I learned back here to Princeton and I look to continue to improve my attack every day.”
So far, Sharkey has been on with her shot, leading the nation in goals and points per game through Princeton’s first 10 games with 45 points on 20 goals and five assists.
Last Sunday, Sharkey added to that total, scoring an insurance goal as third-ranked Princeton topped American University 2-0 at Bedford Field to improve to 10-1 overall.
“I actually felt like I had a lot of time on that play,” said Sharkey, reflecting on her goal which came with 11:32 remaining in the contest.
“I had mis-hit some reverse shots in the first half, a few went over the cage and a few went wide. So I really wanted to focus in and take my time on the shot and place it where I needed to place it in the cage and get it by the American goalie.”
With the game knotted at 0-0 at intermission even though Princeton had outshot the Eagles 9-1, Sharkey believed that the Tigers would break through which they did when sophomore Allison Evans scored five minutes into the second half.
“It was definitely frustrating given the amount of opportunities that we had and to enter the halftime not having a goal,” said Sharkey.
“But I was confident in our attack. I knew that we were eventually going to put one away and we just had to keep on pushing in that second half and I knew we would get one. A 1-0 lead is not enough for us to hang on to so we definitely wanted that security goal. It was really nice; it took some pressure off when we did.”
Looking to avoid a letdown after a 3-2 win over No. 4 Maryland earlier in the week, Princeton knew that American would provide a stern test.
“We try to improve every single game, no matter who our opponent is,” said Sharkey.
“We give it our all. I give a lot of credit to American, they are a strong team defensively and they had a lot of dangerous forwards. They gave us a tough game today and I am happy we were able to come out with the win.”
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, for her part, was happy to see her team survive the challenge posed by American.
“I was really pleased with how we moved the ball and I think we picked the right moments to attack; we were patient,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team outshot American 22-2 on the day and built a 15-2 edge in penalty corners.
“All of that is showing lots of growth and we won by two goals. They are a very good team. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and their program. They always come out super hard against us. I think we have a genuine rivalry with American. Every year, they are really good so I am very pleased to get the win.”
Holmes-Winn was pleased to see Sharkey tally the late insurance goal. “Everyone was struggling at different points to find their shot; it just happens in some games,” said Holmes-Winn.
“One goal is not enough and two is sometimes not enough either so I think it was good to get that.”
But two goals turned out to be more than enough on Sunday as the Tiger defense continually thwarted American in the circle area.
“Our defense was just super tight,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “Julia Reinprecht was just brilliant back there. She was just awesome as was Katie [Reinprecht] and Michelle [Cesan] at center mids and Amy Donovan and Amanda Bird in the back. I thought the whole back five was extraordinary today.”
The Tigers will be tightening things up conditioning-wise as they head into the final phase of the season.
“We are going in the right direction, physiologically this is a really tough patch for us,” added Holmes-Winn, whose team hosts Brown (3-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on October 13.
“We are really pushing the girls hard; they have got another 10 days where they are going to get pushed really hard and then we’ll look to taper a bit as we head in. It was good to see them perform today under some fatigue.”
In Sharkey’s view, Princeton is primed to keep performing at a high level. “I think this is a very special team, we have so much depth,” said Sharkey.
“Every single person on our roster from the starters to the subs is giving it 100 percent everyday in practice and doing what they need to do on and off the field to really help the team. It is just a great atmosphere to be in.”