Even though the Princeton University women’s soccer team brought an 11-game winning streak into its NCAA opening round game at West Virginia, the host team wasn’t overly impressed.
“I think they were totally unprepared for us,” said Princeton head coach Julie Shackford. “I don’t think they knew how good we were.”
It didn’t long for the Mountaineers to realize that they were facing a good foe as Tiger sophomore Lynessa McGee scored a goal in the fifth minute of the contest to give Princeton a 1-0 lead. Senior star Jen Hoy added another tally in the 54th minute to double the Tiger lead.
West Virginia responded with a goal in the 82nd minute but it was not enough as Princeton held on for a 2-1 victory, improving to 14-3-1 in the process.
The Tigers will now face Big East champion Marquette (17-2-2) in the round of 32 on November 15 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The winner of that game will face the victor of the BYU-Auburn contest in the next round.
As Princeton got ready for the clash at West Virginia, Shackford sensed that her team wasn’t happy to just be in the tournament.
“The kids wanted to win; it was not good enough to just be there,” said Shackford, who is in her 18th season at the helm of the Tiger program. “They have been grinding axes all year.”
Senior goalie Claire Pinciano helped Princeton grind out the win, making seven saves as the Tigers weathered the late charge by West Virginia.
“Claire had a phenomenal game; she made some really big saves,” said Shackford. “It was her best game in her four years here.”
Hoy, the Ivy League Player of the Year, is having one of the best seasons in Princeton history.
“Jen is creating or scoring; she seems almost unstoppable,” said Shackford of Hoy, who now has 18 goals this fall, just two behind the single-season record set by current assistant coach Esmeralda Negron in 2004.
“She blew by the Big 12 Defender of the Year like she was running backwards.”
In continuing its amazing run, the Tigers notched its first NCAA win since 2004. That team went on to win four games and advance to the College Cup semifinals.
While Shackford isn’t ready to say that her 2012 team can match those heroics, she believes her current squad could pull some more surprises.
“I think we are capable of going far; we do have a lot of injuries so that concerns me,” said Shackford, noting that four starters have been sidelined due to injury and that two others, McGee and Allison Nabatoff, are doubtful for the Marquette game.
“There are parallels to Negron and [Emily] Behncke and that team. Some teams only have one finisher, we have several kids who can finish.”
Shackford knows that Princeton is facing a tough team in Marquette. “They are very athletic, they go forward with pace and they are stingy on defense,” said Shackford. “They won the Big East tournament.”
But the Golden Eagles would be well advised to not take the Tigers lightly.
“We are not going to back down from anybody; I think it will be hard to knock us out,” said Shackford.
“It has been a dream team to coach, they have done everything we have asked and they are invested.”