Mary-Kate Sivilli and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team had a special message written on their arms as they hosted Penn last Sunday in the championship game of the Ivy League Tournament.
With senior co-captain Colleen Smith having been sidelined after injuring her knee on the opening draw in Princeton’s 12-5 win over Cornell on Friday in the Ivy semis, the Tigers brought her on the field with them in the final via magic marker.
“It is really hard to make up for Colleen, she is a big presence, she has a lot of spirit,” said senior attacker Sivilli.
“We actually wrote her number on our wrists today. We played for her, keeping a piece of her with us in our heart the whole game. Unfortunately it is not the same but we tried to embody her presence.”
The Penn players also scrawled some inspiration on their arms with the words “Penn Ball,” paying homage to the Duke men’s basketball’s team slogan of “Duke Ball” used as inspiration to go hard after any loose balls.
In the early stages on Sunday, the Quakers did a better job of staying on message, scoring the first six goals of the game on the way to taking a 6-2 lead at halftime.
“I thought they really came out and took the game today,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, whose team was outshot 21-3 in the first half and lost 7-of-9 draw controls.
“I think you just have to give them a lot of credit, they went after it at the start of the game. We were slow starting today. I thought Friday night we played one of the best games, if not the best game, that we have played all season. Today was the other end of the spectrum. I think Penn just came out like a force. They worked really hard offensively and we were trying to just keep up defensively.”
In the second half, the Tigers took a page out of Smith’s book, playing with heart and fire as they cut into the Penn lead.
“I was really proud that the team showed a very different effort and fight in the second half,” said Sailer of the Tigers, who had a 9-3 edge on shots in the second half and won 6-of-7 draw controls.
“If you look at the draw control statistics, they were reversed, that was the name of the game. We were outhustled and outperformed on the draw in the first half and we did the reverse on the second half so we had an opportunity.”
But the early hole proved too big as Princeton ultimately succumbed 9-6 to the Quakers to drop to 11-6. The Tigers will get a chance to fight another day as they earned an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament and will play Penn State on May 9 at the University of Virginia with victor to face host Virginia on May 11 in a second round contest.
Princeton junior attacker Erin McMunn believes that the self-belief that the Tigers displayed in their rally will serve the squad well in the NCAAs.
“I think the first thought you have to have, and I think it is something our team has done a really good job of doing all year, is really buying in and believing in yourselves,” said McMunn, who scored three goals to lead the Tigers with Sarah Lloyd, Olivia Hompe, and Mary-Kate Sivilli chipping in one apiece.
“I think we did that and I think the second half shows you that. It is tough to come back from 6-2 at halftime but it didn’t get to us in terms of believing that we could take this game.”
Sivilli, for her part, sees team’s success coming down to taking care of the ball.
“Draw controls and momentum win games,” said Sivilli, who was named to the All-Tournament team last weekend along with fellow Tigers McMunn, Liz Bannantine, and Annie Woehling.
“We didn’t have the ball the first half of the game and you can’t win a game without the ball.”
In Sailer’s view, 17th-ranked Princeton, which lost 13-12 to No. 11 Penn State in late April and beat 15th-ranked Virginia 15-13 on March 1, needs a fiery attitude along with ball possession to make an NCAA run.
“It is the mentality piece; we have to go after what we want,” said Sailer, who has guided Princeton to 22 NCAA appearances and three national titles (1994, 2002, and 2003).
“We have got to be ready from the first draw. Things are going to be hard but that doesn’t mean that we can’t prevail. We just need to have more of that gritty, fighting attitude from the start. I think you saw that in the game Friday night.”