Allison Evans and her teammates on the Princeton University field hockey team were frustrated heading into halftime last Saturday in their game against visiting Fairfield.
Even though third-ranked and defending national champion Princeton had outshot the Stags 12-0 over the first 35 minutes, the teams were knotted in a scoreless tie at intermission.
“I think it is just about mentality at that point,” said junior forward Evans. “We had a few balls that were just kind of sitting on the goal line and we couldn’t find a way to get them in. That’s more of a mental toughness and will to score than anything else because we definitely have the skill to. It was first weekend and less than a 24-hour turnaround from our first game (a 3-1 win over No. 10 Duke on Friday evening) so we definitely had to get the intensity up again.”
Falling behind 1-0 with 30:11 remaining in regulation, the Tigers picked up the intensity as they responded with three straight goals.
“Obviously going down first is always tough, you have to battle back and not only tie it but to go ahead,” said Evans, reflecting on the Princeton rally. “We got a corner and Teresa [Benvenuti] just nailed it at the top of the circle. I think pressure and being more aggressive is what opened up the goals for us.”
Evans showed her aggressiveness, scoring the third goal of that run as Princeton held on for a 4-3 victory over the scrappy Stags.
“My teammate Hailey [Reeves] had the ball on the left side on the baseline and she crossed and I laid my stick out and tipped it into the goalie and it bounced off and I lifted it over,” said Evans, reflecting on her goal. “You have got to get that rebound in.”
With all-time leading scorer Kat Sharkey having graduated after scoring 107 goals in her Tiger career, Evans is looking to pick up the scoring slack.
“I think all the strikers feel this way; it is our job to be effective in the circle,” said Evans, a native of Macungie, Pa. who scored a total of 23 goals in her first two seasons at Princeton.
“It is our job to score; it is our job to get corners. It is spread out among everyone; it is not just me.”
Evans liked the way the Tigers got the job done over opening weekend. “At the end of it, we are 2-0 and I think we are going to learn a lot after the coaches debrief us and look over the film,” said Evans, who picked up an assist in the win over Duke.
“Final results are great but we have a lot to learn and we can only get better from here. We definitely can’t complain about the two wins.”
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn was definitely proud of the way her team fought back after falling behind.
“I think we started attacking; when that happens, things start to open up,” said Holmes-Winn, reflecting on the second half rally.
“We have to be smart and be able to know when that penetrative moment is and make sure that we take it. I think that the team was really good at that. Teresa in the back was really good at playing those moments. I certainly give Fairfield a lot of credit for grinding the game out; it takes a lot of discipline to do that and I applaud them for being able to bring that for a majority of the game.”
Holmes-Winn acknowledged that her team struggled to close the game out as it surrendered two goals over the last 17 minutes of the contest.
“It is just about game management and that is something just being so early in the season we haven’t been able to focus on that as much,” said Holmes-Winn, who got two goals on the day from Benvenuti with Sydney Kirby and Evans adding the other tallies.
“I think the disorganization at the end is the product of just not being able to get everything in during preseason. We’ll be really slick as we move forward with closing out games and everyone understanding their role. We are not quite there yet. We are definitely shifting players around and we are trying to find ideal spots for lots of different players so it is a work in progress.”
A number of players stepped up in the win over Fairfield. “I thought our back three who kind of rotated in there were really steady; Kelsey Byrne, Cassidy Arner, Kate Ferrara, and Teresa were just really, really steady,” asserted Holmes-Winn.
“Allison has been really good. Sydney Kirby’s work rate and Julia Reinprecht’s work rate were just phenomenal. They did so much just clearing space and being available, making space important. They really did a good job with that. Sydney has really been great this season.”
Surviving two tough challenges in the opening weekend was also a great step for Tigers, who have a bull’s eye on their backs after the NCAA championship campaign last fall.
“We felt in control of the Duke game which is a great feeling so early in the season against a quality opponent,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team hosts Michigan State on September 13 and Penn State on September 15.
“I think in this game, for the most part, we felt in control. We just have to get returns. There are going to be games where you just have to persist. It is good to have these games. You have to perform every time you step on the field. I told the girls just now that is one of the great benefits of finishing the previous season as No. 1, you get everyone’s best. That is better than we could ever hope for because it will make us that much better so if we get that kind of effort from every opponent by the time we get to the end of the season we will be battle-tested.”
Evans, for her part, saw the victory over Duke as a harbinger of good things to come this season.
“I think the Duke game was great yesterday for our first game,” said Evans.
“We finally came together as a team, we improved our structure and spacing. We were working together. I think we are connecting pretty well, that will only get better.”