Even though the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailed WW/P-N by four goals with 1:38 remaining in the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Saturday, Dana Smith wasn’t about to throw in the towel.
Fighting for the draw after the Little Tigers narrowed the gap to 13-9, PHS senior midfielder and Lafayette-bound Smith scooped up the ball and raced through and around two WW/P-N defenders to set up a possession that led to a goal by classmate Emilia Lopez-Ona.
The third-seeded Little Tigers added another tally with 12.7 seconds left but time ran out for them as they fell 13-11 to top-seeded and defending champion WW/P-N.
“We never put our heads down,” said Smith, reflecting on the late rally. “We never quit, that was our goal for this game. No matter what, we were going to fight until the end.”
In Smith’s view, fighting to the end was a reflection of PHS’s growth over the spring.
“I think when we started off the season, we sometimes got very frantic,” said Smith.
“We threw the ball away a lot and caused a lot of turnovers. I was very proud of how the team did today, really controlling those turnovers. We barely lost the ball on attack and that was one of our goals.”
Smith was proud of the brand of lacrosse the Little Tigers displayed against WW/P-N.
“We were playing well as a team; Liz Jacobs and Emilia Lopez-Ona were really connecting,” added Smith, reflecting on the setback which dropped PHS to 14-3.
“Gabby Gibbons was awesome coming around the cage. Mira was great in goal. Our juniors are looking so great. Our sophomores, Taylor Lis and Julia Ryan, have stepped up so much.”
As a senior co-captain and battle-tested veteran, Smith seeks to lead by word and deed.
“I like to play on both sides of the field, I like to be in it on both ends,” said Smith, who had an assist in the title game.
“We have so many younger players that it is nice to be a senior. We have eight seniors so we have really great leadership. It is really awesome to be part of that and be able to guide the underclassmen and to work with coach [Kelsey] O’Gorman to really help raise the level of every single person on this team.”
With PHS getting seeded third in the upcoming state Group III South sectional, Smith believes that competing against the likes of WW/P-N will help raise the level of the Little Tigers’ game.
“We are going to face some really tough competition states and North is a great squad so that is really good practice for how the competition is going to be in Group III South,” said Smith, who will look to get PHS back on the winning track as it hosts 14th-seeded Jackson Liberty in the opening round of the sectional on May 15.
“In games like this, we had to learn how to play under pressure. In those last two minutes, the draws were so tight and we had to learn to come up with those 50/50 balls and fight through every single ground ball and make those clutch shots at the end and that’s really important. Being able to keep our calm even when we are down and the clock is running out.”
PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman was proud of the way her team fought to the final whistle in the loss.
“I think we showed our true character and what we are capable of as a team,” said O’Gorman.
“You really can’t count us out. If you gave us two more minutes on the clock, we would have won this game. I was proud that they were able to translate what we talked about in the timeout on to the field in the last two minutes because I think that really shows the true content of a team. I was proud that they left it all on the field today and you can see everyone is leaving saying we gave it our all.”
O’Gorman credited Smith and her classmates with showing character. “Our senior leadership is phenomenal and they know how to take charge,” said O’Gorman, whose group of seniors includes Liz Jacobs, Emily Young, Krysta Holman, Stephanie Hauer, Kristi DeMilt, and Taylor Chiang in addition to Smith and Lopez-Ona. “They know how to help the younger players step up in these types of games.”
Making a run to the county title game should help the Little Tigers step up in the state tourney.
“We ended at the county semifinal game last year so having this game instead of watching in the stands was a great opportunity,” said O’Gorman.
“It was definitely great competition today. I think it does come down to the little things. North played a tremendous game and they did a lot of those little things right. We had a ball out of bounds, a missed draw, an uncontested ground ball and things like that came down to them being on top. It was a great game, we can clean up those things and bring it into the state tournament for our section.”
Smith, for her part, vows that PHS will compete to the end. “We are never going to give up in the state tournament,” asserted Smith.
“It has been four years, I love this team so much. None of us want the season to end so we are going to take it as long as possible. I would love to be playing at the end of May.”