While missing out on postseason play last spring left the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team with an empty feeling, Chris Sailer believes the experience gave her players a fuller appreciation of what it takes to excel.
“Last year was a tough year for all of us,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, who is entering her 27th season at the helm at Princeton and has won 322 games and three NCAA titles in her Hall of Fame career.
“It led to some important reflection and renewed commitment. The girls have been motivated all year long in the off season and now in the preseason.”
The team’s offseason featured a trip to Malta and London in October that Sailer believes gave her players a boost as they look to rebound from last spring’s disappointment.
“The foreign trips always help a team; you spend so much time together and you do cool things together,” said Sailer, whose team opens the 2013 season by hosting Villanova (0-1) on February 23.
“This group has a unique chemistry. They are so supportive of each other; they get along so well. They enjoy being out on the field and playing together. I think we are in a good place.”
The addition of new assistant coaches Jenn Cook and former Princeton standout Anne Murray ’09 has positively impacted the team’s chemistry.
“That has been awesome, they add a new energy,” said Sailer. “They bring new sets of eyes on everybody and new ideas. There are new drills. The kids have really enjoyed working with them.”
Sailer enjoys having the one-two punch of senior Jaci Gassaway (38 goals and 16 assists in 2012) and sophomore Erin McMunn (18 goals and 30 assists) back to trigger the Princeton attack.
“Jaci and Erin are both good players and they play so well together,” said Sailer. “They lift other people around them.”
While Gassaway and McMunn figure to be the Tigers’ biggest offensive weapons, Sailer believes she has other people who are going to be dangerous.
“I think we are going to have a balanced attack,” asserted Sailer, whose team went 8-7 overall last spring with a 4-3 mark in Ivy League play.
“We have a lot of kids who have stepped up, both returners and freshmen. It is not going to just be the Jaci and Erin show.”
Among those in the mix on attack are senior Sam Ellis (9 goals and seven assists), junior Mary-Kate Sivilli (10 goals, nine assists), sophomore Erika Grabbi (two goals), junior Grace Bowen, together with freshmen Alex Bruno and Anya Gersoff.
“Sam Ellis is a senior; she is an explosive kid,” said Sailer. “Mary-Kate Sivilli started about half the games for us; she plays solid in front of the net. Grabbi and Bowen have both improved from last year; they can help us out in certain situations. We have a couple of good freshman. Bruno is really smart; she is a good shooter and she knows how to read defenses and finish. Gersoff played field hockey last fall and had a great experience. She jumped in with us this spring. She is a lax rat; she has incredible stick skills.”
The Tiger midfield is led by skillful senior Charlotte Davis (20 goals, five assists).
“Char is off to a great start in preseason; we had a scrimmage with Temple this week and she was so solid,” said Sailer. “She is hard to contain with her drive and shot; she is going to be a huge leader for us.”
Junior Sarah Lloyd (17 goals and five assists) and freshman Erin Slifer (10 goals and seven assists) could prove hard for Princeton’s foes to contain this spring
“Sarah Lloyd has been doing well,” said Sailer, whose midfield unit will also include senior Jenna Davis and a pair of promising freshmen in Anna Menke and Stephanie Paloscio.
“She is more of a 1-on-1 player this year; we want her to go to goal. Slifer is an all-around solid player at both ends of the field. She is a good defender and a solid attacker. We are looking for her to do more on attack.”
Sophomore Blake Dietrick, who is currently starring at guard for the Ivy-leading Princeton women’s basketball team, could be a solid addition for the Tigers.
“Dietrick is an athletic kid; we really wanted her to play lacrosse but basketball is her first love and she didn’t play for us last year,” said Sailer, noting that Dietrick was an All-American lax player in high school. “She will join us in mid-to-late March and we will see how she fits in.”
Senior captain Caroline Rehfuss (one goal, three assists, 15 groundballs) adds athleticism and leadership to the Princeton defense.
“Rehfuss is playing so well, she has been on fire,” asserted Sailer.
“She is so smart on the field, her positioning is great. She is also good in transition. She is going to be the backbone of the unit.”
The unit will also feature juniors Colleen Smith and Liz Cutting along with talented freshman Liz Bannantine.
“Colleen Smith is aggressive and very smart; Cutting is playing really well, she made a lot of progress,” added Sailer, who will also be using junior Erin Williams and sophomore Erin Curley on defense.
“Liz Bannanine is doing really well; she is like deButts [former All-American defender Lindsey deButts] in transition.”
Sophomore goalie Annie Woehling is doing well as she builds on a freshman campaign that saw her post a goals against average of 9.50 in 15 starts.
“Annie has a year under her belt and has been tested under fire,” said Sailer.
“She is much more confident and less nervous. She knows what is expected at this level. She is a quick kid.”
Sailer is confident that her squad can rebound from last year’s frustration. “Our goal is certainly to make it to the postseason,” said Sailer.
“We have the potential to be one of the top teams in the Ivies, we are going for the title. It was tough to be left out last year. We have a good group of kids. We have good senior leadership; we have a senior leading every unit. We have good balance; it is not a situation where we have a strong unit and a weak unit.”