In late October, the second-ranked Princeton University field hockey team got a scare as it pulled out a 2-1 win over No. 7 Virginia.
When the programs met again last Sunday in the NCAA quarterfinals, it looked for a while like the Cavaliers might turn the tables on the Tigers as Virginia jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 early in the contest at Charlottesville, Va.
But Princeton junior goalie Christina Maida wasn’t concerned. “We knew this game was going to have a lot of highs and lows,” said Maida.
“At this level of field hockey there are always going to be some goals conceded but we knew that we just had to keep fighting and it paid off in the end.”
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn likewise had confidence that her players would come through.
“We knew that they would try to make it into a track meet and they were successful in that first bit,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We just had to maintain our composure. These guys have extraordinary will and great organization.”
Utilizing that will and its great skill, Princeton scored two goals midway through the first half to take a 3-2 lead into the break. In the first seven minutes of the second half, Tiger senior star Kat Sharkey found the back of the cage twice and Princeton never looked back on the way to a 5-2 triumph and its first trip to the Final 4 since 2009.
Once Princeton pulled ahead 3-2, Maida felt the Tigers would take control of the contest.
“It was back and forth, back and forth and once it was 3-2 we said it is not going to be back and forth, it is just going to be us scoring goals,” said Maida. “We played really strong defense; they had a lot of corners but we held them and it was awesome.”
It was an awesome feeling for Maida to be heading to her first final four. “I have wanted this since I got here,” said Maida, a native of Doylestown, Pa. who has a goals against average of 1.06 this season in helping Princeton go 19-1.
“As a freshman, the class before that had gone to the final four and that is all that I heard about. We just wanted this so badly and these past years we have had losses in the first or second round of the tournament so it is so amazing to get to the final four. We are so excited.”
Holmes-Winn was excited to see this group make it to the national semis in Norfolk, Va. where they will face No. 6 Maryland (18-5) on November 16 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 18 against the victor of the North Carolina-Syracuse semi matchup.
“You just work all year on making sure that you get the details right,” said Holmes-Winn, who got two goals from sophomore Sydney Kirby with Katie Reinprecht chipping in a goal and two assists.
“I am just so happy for this group because they are such amazing young women. They deserve it. They work their heart and soul out everyday. They just played a real professional game so it is amazing.”
Holmes-Winn credited Virginia with making Princeton work hard all over the field.
“They pressed us,” said Holmes-Winn. “I thought they did a great job, certainly in the opening minutes to strip Julia [Reinprecht] and create an opportunity. It was good for us to see that; no one has really pressed us in a while so it was good to face that going into next weekend.”
In facing Maryland, Princeton will be looking to maintain the focus that helped the Tigers edge the Terps 3-2 in early October.
“This is not our first rodeo; we have been around for a while so I think this team is going to keep doing what we have been doing,” said Holmes-Winn, who has guided the Tigers to eight straight Ivy League titles and two final fours.
“Taking care of the small things because that is what wins you games. I think we will keep paying attention to details and stay sharp and stay focused.”
Maida, for her part, sees the win over Virginia as proof that Princeton has a lot of things going in its favor.
“At the end of the day, we sustained the energy,” said Maida. “We have got one complete team and that is the difference between them and us I think. We play as a unit and that really paid off.”
And by Sunday afternoon, the Tigers might prove to have the best unit in the country.