Caroline Rehfuss showed a good finishing touch in her freshman season in 2010 with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team, scoring 13 goals as a midfielder.
But when Rehfuss was switched to defense as a sophomore, it didn’t require much of a transition.
“I was always more of a defensive midfielder,” said Rehfuss. “I actually like defense a lot better than attack.”
Rehfuss made an immediate impact on defense in 2011, getting 23 ground balls with 19 draw controls and 18 caused turnovers.
Last year, Rehfuss served as a team co-captain and earned honorable mention All-Ivy League recognition.
This spring, Rehfuss is the unquestioned quarterback of the Tiger defensive unit.
“I try and be a vocal leader when we are down there on the eight, telling people who is hot, who is going to be sliding next, and just reminding people on the one-on-ones that their hips have to be square,” said the 5’7 Rehfuss, a native of Latham, N.Y. who is a team co-captain for a second straight year. “I do feel like I do a lot of the talking.”
On Saturday against visiting Harvard, Princeton needed Rehfuss’ leadership as the Crimson utilized a deliberate offensive style to put the Tigers on their heels.
“We haven’t faced an offense like that which stalls through the whole game,” said Rehfuss, reflecting on the contest which was knotted 4-4 at the half.
“Usually we are used to it in the last 10 minutes. Typically we do a really good job with it. We threw in a couple of plays to try to send the early doubles but it was definitely very tiring.”
Princeton fought through the fatigue to pull out an 11-9 victory, improving to 8-4 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play.
While the win wasn’t pretty, it beat the alternative. “It was a little bit of a struggle but at the end of the day a win is good so we are real happy about that,” said Rehfuss, noting that the win sealed a spot for the Tigers in the upcoming Ivy tournament which includes the league’s top four teams.
“I have to give it to our attack who I felt like tired out the Harvard defense so they really helped us. We know what we have to work on to get better.”
The Tiger defense had to work hard at the end when Harvard had possession and could have made it a one-goal game in the last minute of regulation.
“We didn’t want to give them anything else and we knew they were either going to look for a crease challenge or a two-person crease play,” said Rehfuss. “We talked about our high angles and how that had to be that much better.”
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer acknowledged that Harvard’s patience posed a challenge for the Tigers.
“It was a tough game to play because Harvard was all about ball possession and they wanted the ball for long, long stretches,” said Sailer.
“When you get the ball, you press. We didn’t have that many offensive looks. They beat us on the draw controls. When you are playing a team that beats you in the draw controls and is looking to kill the clock as their main strategy, it is tough. They didn’t turn the ball over; they kept it moving. They wear you down a little bit defensively.”
Sailer credited her team with showing some mental toughness in overcoming the Crimson.
“To play a difficult kind of game that you are not used to playing and then not playing at your best and you are still able to pull out a win, that’s important at this time of the year,” asserted Sailer.
“We are trying to get better every time we step on the field but you have got to get the ‘w.’”
Senior Mary-Kate Sivilli and junior Sam Ellis both played a major role in helping Princeton get the win as they each scored three goals.
“They had big games and that was great,” said Sailer. “They are two kids who haven’t necessarily been biggest producers. Sam probably got almost half of her goal total. Sam had a couple of goals against Maryland and another good day today. She is finishing 8 meters. I thought MK played really well so it was nice.”
Sailer depends on Rehfuss to be a big producer for Princeton at the defensive end.
“Caroline is the one who tries to get kids talking,” said Sailer. “She really organizes things down there, she is such a leader for us on the defense with consistent play and a vocal presence. She is fantastic.”
On Wednesday, 13th-ranked Princeton heads to Penn (7-4 overall, 5-0 Ivy) in a battle for the league lead which could determine who will host the Ivy tourney. Three days later, the Tigers play at No. 16 Dartmouth (8-5 overall, 4-1 Ivy) in another critical Ivy contest.
Sailer knows her team will have its hands full when it takes on the Quakers at venerable Franklin Field.
“They are very athletic, they are pretty deep and they have a lot of offensive firepower,” said Sailer, referring to Penn, that edged Dartmouth 8-7 last Friday to remain undefeated in league play.
“They have really good sticks, they go really hard. We are going to have to be ready defensively. They have a transfer goalie who has been playing pretty well for them. Just like any other game, so much will be dependent upon ground balls, draw controls, keeping our unforced errors down which we did much better this game. We had a bunch of unforced errors against Maryland (a 15-9 loss on April 10) and we didn’t today so that was a step in the right direction.”
Rehfuss, for her part, is confident that Princeton will be ready to go hard when it takes on the Quakers.
“Penn has always been a great matchup and we are really excited for it,” said Rehfuss.
“Our goal is to win the Ivy outright so we have to buckle down on Monday and Tuesday during practice. We need to get out the little kinks that we have and pay attention to detail.”