With the Princeton University women’s soccer team locked in a 3-2 dogfight last Saturday against visiting Penn and an undefeated Ivy League season on the line, the ball bounced to Caitlin Blosser in front of the goal.
The Princeton senior forward was determined to come through with the Tigers on their heels after the Quakers rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
“Jen Hoy did all the work and I got to pick it up at the end,” said Blosser. “I know getting that opportunity that if I didn’t finish it, I would have regretted it. I needed to finish the goal and I wanted to finish the game out.”
Blosser finished the play with aplomb, blasting the ball into the top of the net to give the Princeton a much-needed insurance goal as it went on to a 4-2 victory.
The win was the 11th straight for Princeton and clinched the league title and a berth in the upcoming NCAA tournament as the Tigers ended the regular season at 13-3-1 overall and 7-0 Ivy. Princeton will be playing at West Virginia (11-4-4) this weekend in the first round of the national tourney.
In the wake of a raucous postgame celebration which started with the league trophy presentation at midfield of Roberts Stadium, Blosser savored the achievement of producing an undefeated league campaign.
“In any league you are in, it is so hard to do, “ said Blosser. “We knew coming into this week’s game that even though we knew we had partially clinched the title, we wanted to win it all. We wanted to get that undefeated record and clinch the NCAA berth. We didn’t want any drawing out of a hat.”
It has been a hard road for Blosser who has experienced an up-and-down career which saw her go from scoring one goal as a freshman in 2009 to tallying six goals and seven assists in an All-Ivy campaign sophomore season but then dropping off to two goals in an injury-shortened 2011 campaign.
Blosser’s struggles exemplify the journey traveled by the team’s eight seniors.
“We have been through some ups and downs, especially with all the injuries we have been through,” said Blosser of the class who had posted a pedestrian overall record of 22-23-5 coming into this fall, including a disappointing 6-10-1 record in 2011.
“I think there was another motivation, specifically coming from our class, because we haven’t won one yet. We wanted it, we knew we deserved it. We knew we had the talent on this team to do it.”
Blosser has benefitted from playing up front with such talents as classmate Jen Hoy, the top goal scorer in the Ivies with 17, and sophomore star Lauren Lazo, who had three goals in the win over Penn.
“Both Hoy and Lazo are phenomenal players,” asserted Blosser. “They have done a great job in helping us create chances up there with their speed and athleticism.”
The team has developed a togetherness which has helped it maximize its chances.
“Ultimately, it is chemistry; everyone is so connected,” explained Blosser.
“There is no division whatsoever; everyone is so together. Everyone has worked for our goal, whether they are sitting on the bench or playing. We are all supportive of each other.”
Blosser and her classmates have played a key role in helping to develop that team unity.
“I think we have a strong senior class, we knew going into this year that if we didn’t win it, we would be upset,” said Blosser, who now has five goals this season and 14 in her Princeton career. “We came into this season knowing what we had to do and just getting everyone up to that level.”
Princeton head coach Julie Shackford credits her senior group with setting a winning tone this fall.
“It was a well-led team with eight seniors; they are the ones who put things in place for us to have a good season,” said Shackford.
“They did a great job with our team culture and with 28 kids, that is not always easy.”
In Shackford’s view, that culture helped the Tigers overcome hurdles on their way to a perfect league campaign.
“Any time in our sport, which is such an unforgiving game, to go 7-0 is really special,” said Shackford.
“We lost three or four starters throughout the year and I thought the team absorbed all of that. It seemed like when one went down, there was somebody else there to step in and do just as well. I just think that we have a bunch of kids that can finish that was the difference.”
In assessing what made the difference in the team’s winning streak, Shackford points to an early-season defeat.
“They all say, and maybe I agree, that it was the game against California Irvine,” said Shackford, referring to the team’s 2-1 loss to the Anteaters on September 16, the team’s last defeat.
“We spent most of the game defending with 10 players. Coming out of that trip, they really felt like they learned a lot about themselves. They were pretty confident going forward.”
Shackford, who has led the Tigers to seven previous NCAA trips including a run to the semifinals in 2004, is confident that her team can do well in the national tourney.
“We are excited about the prospects going forward,” said Shackford. “We are going to enjoy it.”
Blosser, for her part, believes Princeton could enjoy a deep tournament run.
“I think we can do some damage,” maintained Blosser. “We have the talent and we certainly have the mentality. We are a great team.”