Coming into the 2012 season, Julie Shackford was comforted by the fact that her Princeton University women’s soccer team included eight seniors.
Asserting that teams who excel typically have a strong core of seniors, the Tigers added credence to Shackford’s notion, going 14-4-1 overall, 7-0 in Ivy League play, and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In assessing the upcoming campaign, Shackford acknowledges that the departure of last year’s seniors has left a huge void.
“It is a hard class to replace on so many levels,” said Shackford of the group which had five players earn All-Ivy recognition last fall, led by Jen Hoy, the league’s Player of the Year.
The Tigers do possess some high-level skills at the forward position, starting with junior Lauren Lazo, a first-team All-Ivy pick last fall after tallying 11 goals and five assists.
“We need Lazo to pick up Jen’s slack; we are looking for a breakout season from her,” said Shackford, who is entering her 19th season guiding the program and has a record of 189-103-22 with six Ivy titles and 8 NCAA appearances.
“She was a legitimate threat in the latter half of last season; she scored a lot of goals. We have two other players who are coming back from ACL injuries and are playing phenomenally. Melissa Downey is a junior who is looking really good. Erika Hoglund was just starting to come around last year as a junior and got injured in the Yale game. She has been a leader in preseason. The three of them are a nice combination. Liana Cornaccio is back; she is good on throw-ins and is a presence. We have a freshman, Tyler Lussi, who is slight but strong and fast. We have some good options up top.”
Princeton has some nice options in the midfield, featuring senior co-captain Gabriella Guzman, together with sophomore Jessica Lee, junior Jessica Haley and a pair of promising freshmen, Nicole Loncar and Jess McDonough.
“Gabby Guzman holds the ball really well and wins every 50/50 ball,” said Shackford.
“She is so strong and is a good leader. She is really hard-nosed in those tough Ivy League games. Jess Lee played well last year, she sprained her ankle so she isn’t training right now. We have a player who has been on the U-17 and U-20 teams for Canada, Nicole Loncar, and she will play in the center. Jess McDonough is a shore kid who played for the Wildcats and she will be in the mix. We have Jess Haley back, the Ivy League assist leader last year and she can play in the midfield or up top.”
On defense, the Tigers welcome back a trio of battle-tested veterans. “We have Diane Metcalf-Leggette, Kacie Kergides, and Gabby Ragazzo back,” said Shackford, noting that senior co-captain Metcalf-Leggette, an honorable mention All-Ivy choice in 2012, is a vocal leader along the backline.
“The frontrunner to play in the other spot is Fiona McKenna, who also plays hockey. She is a phenomenal athlete and is tough as nails.”
Shackford acknowledges that the graduation of second-team All-Ivy goalie Claire Pinciaro has left a big hole.
“The big question mark is in goal, we have four players and there is no clear-cut starter yet,” said Shackford, who is looking at senior Cecilia DiCaprio, junior Darcy Hargadon, junior MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti, and freshman Hannah Winner. “We may have to do a rotation with two of them.”
In Shackford’s view, the Tigers can work around the uncertainty at goalie. “If we can defend really well as a team, I think we have enough firepower to outscore teams,” said Shackford.
“This group has potential; I expect us to contend for a title. We have seen some good things in the scrimmages so far but we are not as well oiled as last year when he had all those veterans and everyone knew their spot.”
As the Tigers open the season this weekend by hosting Richmond on September 6 and Army on September 8, the team will be in a tough spot.
“Army has been training since July 1; Richmond has had some mixed results so far but historically they always have some good forwards,” said Shackford.
“Every first game is going to be a challenge for us. I am happy to be at home; it is easier to work out the kinks when you are not worrying about traveling.”