As the rain pelted the area last Saturday afternoon, Anna Doherty found herself in a slippery situation for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.
The high-scoring freshman attacker repeatedly misfired as Princeton hosted Cornell at the Class of 52 Stadium, missing all five of her shots in regulation as the teams headed into overtime knotted at 7-7.
“I don’t know what it was,” said Doherty, a 5’5 native of nearby Bernardsville who starred for Kent Place in high school. “I had some good looks but I wasn’t putting it in the back of the net like usual.”
Early in overtime, Doherty got a good look near the goal. “I saw [Alex] Bruno get shooting space and then we both realized I was wide open with my left hand up in the crease,” recalled Doherty.
“She was looking at the cage but saying my name so I knew she was going to pass it. I just knew I had to finish that one so I closed my eyes and prayed that it went in.”
Doherty’s prayer was answered as the ball hit the back of the net to give Princeton an 8-7 lead, The Tigers tacked on two more goals in the extra session to earn a 10-7 victory, improving to 6-3 overall and 2-1 Ivy League.
In Doherty’s view, the victory, which extended Princeton’s winning streak to five, was an important step forward for the squad.
“It was awesome; we lost a couple of overtime games in the beginning of the season so we just knew we really wanted this one,” said Doherty.
“We executed and got the draw and we did what we needed to do. I think the upperclassmen and the sophomores lost a lot of tough OT games last season so facing that adversity really helped them lead us.”
Having emerged as a leading scorer for the Tigers with a team-high 18 goals, Doherty is developing a comfort level with the college game.
“I think I have just built up my confidence a lot more,” said Doherty, who has Tiger bloodlines as her father, Kelly Doherty (Princeton ’81), was the captain of the 1981 Princeton men’s lacrosse team and mother, Susan (Princeton ’83) Doherty [nee O’Connor], was a member of the soccer, cross country, and track and field teams.
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the season but the coaches really believed in me and gave me a shot. That really boosted my confidence and it has just been building with every game.”
Exploding for a career-high five goals in a 14-7 win over USC on March 19 was a major confidence builder for Doherty.
“That was a bit of a turning point,” said Doherty, who was later named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Week for her production. “I think I realized that I have a big impact on the team.”
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see Doherty have a big impact in overtime.
“It just wasn’t a great day for her shooting-wise,” said Sailer. “When it counted, she had the opportunity and she buried it. That was huge. She is a tough kid. She is fast and quick. She normally shoots really well. She is definitely giving us a boost offensively.
Sailer acknowledged that the Tigers didn’t shoot well collectively as they fought through the downpour.
“It wasn’t pretty, it was definitely hard conditions today for both teams,” said Sailer, who got four goals from junior star Erin McMunn in the victory with freshman Olivia Hompe contributing a goal and five assists.
“It wasn’t close to our best game. Offensively, we struggled today. We didn’t shoot well. We didn’t make great decisions all day long but when it mattered we were able to tie the game up.”
Princeton did produce a good defensive effort, containing a high-powered Big Red attack that came into the afternoon averaging 11.9 goals a contest.
“I thought defensively, for the amount of the time they had the ball, we did a good job of holding them to seven goals,” said Sailer. “Jenn (assistant coach Jenn Cook) was calling in different slides for the defense and they were executing really well.”
Junior goalie Annie Woehling executed in the clutch for the Tigers. “Annie had an awesome warm-up but in the first half I don’t think she was seeing the ball really well,” said Sailer of Woehling, who made six saves on the day and was later named the Ivy co-Defensive Player of the Week. “In the second half, she came through with some really key saves for us.”
In the wake of the OT losses to Georgetown and Brown earlier in the season, Sailer saw the marathon win over Cornell as a key breakthrough for her squad.
“I think what we learned is that we couldn’t just wait before we attacked,” said Sailer, reflecting on the lessons the team learned from its previous extra session contests.
“Your normal strategy in overtime is to hold the ball for the last shot in the first period and that just hasn’t really worked well for our kids. We allowed them to attack earlier and see what they could create.”
With a logjam having developed in the Ivy title race as Penn is at 2-0 in league play and the quartet of Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton are all 2-1, Sailer knows her team has to keep attacking when it hosts Yale (7-3 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on April 5.
“Today was a great example that every Ivy game is a battle this year,” said Sailer.
“Yale beat Dartmouth by seven and then Dartmouth beat Brown. Every team in the league can beat any other team in the league on any given day. That is what I have taken away from it so you have just got to come ready to play.”
Doherty, for her part, believes the Tigers are ready to keep rolling. “I think we had a bit of a rough start to our season, losing those two overtime games against Georgetown and Brown,” said Doherty.
“Now we are on 5-game streak. We know that we can be the team that we want to be and execute under pressure.”