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Keeping Focus on Daily Improvement, PU Women’s Lax Primed for Big Spring

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

If the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team can stay in the present, it could have a bright future.

“The kids are really focused on everyday; they are playing well and learning the system,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer whose team went 10-7 overall in 2013 and advanced to the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“They are working on elevating their game. We have fallen victim to letting the game situation dictate everything. Whether we get off to a good start or a bad start, we need to have confidence in who we are and in our systems. We need to keep fighting and playing our system. The theme this season is the power of now.”

As the 16th-ranked Tigers open their season at No. 8 Loyola on February 22, they boast a lot of firepower on attack.

“Our attack is shaping up very nicely,” asserted Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach,  who is in her 28th season at Princeton and has led the Tigers to three NCAA titles and 332 wins.

“We have great players who are playing well together. We have good depth, it is good to see. We have a really well-rounded offense; we should be balanced in our scoring. I think it is going to be a strength for us.”

Junior Erin McMunn figures to trigger the Tiger offense, having scored 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists. Senior Mary-Kate Sivilli (19 goals and 7 assists in 2013) and sophomore Alexandra Bruno (26 goals and 4 assists) should also be key weapons for Princeton.

“We are going to look for a lot out of Erin, she has a sure stick and can finish,” said Sailer.

“Sivilli is having a great year; she had a good fall. She is becoming a leader of the unit. She helps McMunn organize the attack. She sees the field really well; I think this is going to be her best season. Bruno has been hampered by her back but she coming on strong. She is a great shooter. She is an intelligent player and sees the game well.”

The Tigers have several others who have some game on attack. “We have a number of kids who are doing well, Erika Grabbi is a junior who is coming into her own,” added Sailer.

“She is fast and explosive and is one of our most talented 1 v 1 players. We have freshman Olivia Hompe, who is playing around the crease with McMunn, they are developing a good connection. She is a talented kid. Grace Bowen is coming off a stress fracture and she is playing herself into a role. Steph Paloscio (2 goals, 2 assists) has done well. She is little but quick and speedy. Anna Menke is a big, strong kid. We don’t have anyone who isn’t ready play, they can helps us in different situations.”

At midfield, Princeton boasts a strong one-two punch in senior Sarah Lloyd (19 goals, 14 assists) and junior Erin Slifer (19 goals, 20 assists).

“Lloyd and Slifer have been mainstays for us,” said Sailer. “Sarah had been dealing with an injury but she is back. We had a scrimmage at the end of practice the other day and she was all over the field. She is great on the draw, she is great on ground balls and is great in transition and dodging. Slifer is a big, strong player. She came into her own at the end of last season. She became a go-to kid for us. She is a large presence at both ends of the field.”

Sailer is hoping that freshman Anna Doherty and sophomore Anya Gersoff will emerge as go-to players in the midfield,

“Doherty has been doing very well; she is incredibly quick and explosive,” said Sailer. “She can be really good for us. Anya Gersoff (14 goals, 4 assists) has been really impressive. We are expecting a lot from her. She plays field hockey and missed our fall season as a freshman and I think she was behind last year. She expected more from herself because lacrosse is her love. I give her credit, she trained on her own. She worked hard on her footwork. She can do things with the stick and the ball that are really impressive.”

On defense, Princeton will rely on the battle-tested trio of sophomore Liz Bannantine, senior Liz Cutting, and senior Colleen Smith.

“Bannantine, Cutting, and Smith give us three veterans which is good,” said Sailer.

“We have been playing our middies with our attack to get the sets down. That is one thing we have to work on with the defense, we need to get them reps with the first midfield. Cutting and Smith have the experience and Bannantine is really smart on the field.”

The Tigers have some good reinforcements to back up its veteran leaders. “Maddie Rodriguez is a recruited walk-on from Minnesota and she has really surprised us,” said Sailer.

“She is fitting in well; she just goes out there and does her business. Erin Williams is a senior and will get some minutes. Erin Curley, a junior, is doing better. Freshman Amanda Leavell is fast and athletic. She has to learn the system; she will be good.”

Sailer is still trying to figure who is going to get the most minutes at goalie as she is looking at senior Caroline Franke (10.01 goals against average in 15 games in 2013), junior Annie Woehling (9.40 goals against average in five games), and promising freshman Ellie DeGarmo.

“Franke had the experience and performed well in game situations; Annie has been having some good practices,” said Sailer.

“Ellie was All-Met in a tough league in Maryland and she is pushing the two returners. We are hoping that one will emerge. It is a good thing to have options. Against some teams, we may want someone quicker and against other teams, we may want someone who is bigger and holds the angles better. Franke has the early edge coming off of last season; we still haven’t made a firm decision.”

Princeton knows it is facing a big-time team in Loyola (1-0), which is coming off a 16-12 win over perennial power Virginia.

“Loyola is a daunting challenge, we played them in the fall season at Penn,” said Sailer.

“Loyola is fast, fast, fast. They have great attackers, great dodgers. They are good at looking for each other and they have one of the best goalies in the country. We hung in there with them, we played well in spurts. Our defense wasn’t as far along as it is now and we gave up too many goals. We need to compete better on 50/50 balls and in transition. I think it gives us an edge to have been on the field with them rather than just see them on film.”

In Sailer’s view, the Tigers could go far this spring. “This group has great potential, you never know until the ball goes up,” said Sailer.

“We have good talent, we are going to be challenged by a tough early schedule. I think we have the ability to compete against every team we play. We need to grow throughout the season.”

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