Earlier in the spring, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team appeared overmatched as it fell to such powerful non-conference foes as Georgetown and Maryland.
But catching fire, the Tigers won seven of their last eight regular season games and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite an overtime loss to Dartmouth in the Ivy League tournament.
Facing national power Duke in the first round of the NCAAs last Friday evening in Annapolis, Md., the Tigers showed how much they have grown as they jumped out to a 7-5 halftime lead over the Blue Devils.
“It was an incredible 30 minutes of lacrosse at both ends of the field,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, reflecting on her squad’s first half performance.
“We went out and played hard and competed. We dominated the draws all night, that was a huge focus for us all week. We dominated the draws against Dartmouth the first time and then they dominated the draws against us in the Ivy semis.”
Princeton never stopped competing even as Duke forged ahead in the second half.
“They were leading by one with a couple of minutes left and we went into our pressure defense and threw some doubles at them,” said Sailer.
“Caroline Rehfuss made a nice steal and then Erin Slifer made an unbelievable shot to tie it up. It was a great moment.”
Slifer’s tally and a save by junior goalie Caroline Franke in the waning seconds of regulation helped force overtime as the teams were knotted at 9-9 after 60 minutes of action.
“I thought we had momentum going into the sudden victory period,” said Sailer.
“We made a mistake at the end of the first overtime and we were on a yellow card for the first two minutes of the second overtime. They didn’t make a move to goal, I was surprised by that. They held the ball for all three minutes and they weren’t able to get off a good shot. We played some really good defense.”
But Duke solved the Princeton defense and scored to pull out a 10-9 victory and end the Tigers’ season and leave them with a final record of 10-7.
“I am so proud of how they improved and how much they grew,” asserted Sailer, who got two goals and two assists from Slifer in the defeat with Erin McMunn and Charlotte Davis chipping in two goals apiece.
“We made a lot of progress during the season, for the first few games to the end, there was no comparison. We accomplished a lot. We went 6-1 in Ivy League for the first time since 2009. We made it back to the NCAAs and the Ivy tournament.”
Sailer credits veteran leadership with playing a key role in the team’s accomplishments this spring.
“It was a great group of seniors,” said Sailer, whose Class of 2013 included Sam Ellis, Jenna Davis, and Jaci Gassaway in addition to Rehufuss and Charlotte Davis.
“They did a great job of laying the foundation for what we did this year. I credit the seniors for setting the right tone. The team went as they went. The chemistry and camaraderie was great and there was an overall good work ethic. I enjoyed the season; it was a fun team to coach.”
The Tigers appear well positioned to have a lot of fun next year as they return such standouts as Sarah Lloyd, Alex Bruno, Mary-Kate Sivilli, Anya Gersoff, and Liz Bannantine along with Franke, Slifer, and McMunn.
“I think we can build on what we did,” said Sailer. “All five seniors were starters and these five will be missed. We have a great group returning and some talented freshmen coming in. I am excited to see what we can do.”