May 24, 2017

PU Women’s Lax Edged in NCAA Quarters, Fighting Penn State to the End in 14-12 Loss

LION HEARTED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Ellie McNulty heads to goal in recent action. Last Sunday, junior midfielder McNulty contributed two goals in a losing cause as fifth-seeded Princeton fell 14-12 at fourth-seeded Penn State in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The defeat to the Nittany Lions left the Tigers with a final record of 15-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team hosted Penn State in late March, it found itself trailing 5-0 with 26:45 left in the first half.

While the Tigers did regroup as the game went on, that early deficit proved pivotal as they ended up suffering a 13-8 loss to the Nittany Lions.

Earning a rematch with Penn State in the NCAA quarterfinals last Sunday at University Park, Pa., Princeton was determined to be in the game from the start.

“We were just really trying to compete hard and be stronger right out of the gate,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.

“The last time, they ran over us early and we dug ourselves a hole. We are such a different team at this point. We just wanted to play our best lacrosse.”

In round two, the fifth-seeded Tigers found themselves knotted at 2-2 with the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions six minutes into the contest, the first tie of a game that turned into a classic nail-biter. Playing some of its best and hardest lacrosse of the season, Princeton battled Penn State tooth and nail in a game that saw nine ties and seven lead changes.

Although Princeton came up on the short end, losing 14-12 to the Nittany Lions to end the spring at 15-4, Sailer credited her players for giving their all.

“It was everything a quarterfinal game should be,” said Sailer. “It is a shame that one of those teams couldn’t make the Final 4. It was a great game. It really showcased some tremendous athleticism and teamwork from both teams.”

The Tigers showcased their offensive balance as senior star Olivia Hompe tallied three goals in the defeat with sophomore Elizabeth George and junior Ellie McNulty each chipping in two and sophomore Allie Rogers, freshman Tess D’Orsi, junior Colby Chanenchuk, senior Anna Doherty, and sophomore Kathryn Hallett contributing one apiece.

“Olivia has had a phenomenal year and career and has gotten so much attention but we have had a number of other kids who have put in key goals and assists for us,” said Sailer.

Senior goalie Ellie DeGarmo keyed the defense, making 16 saves with a number of stops coming on point-blank shots.

“Ellie had a phenomenal game again; she has been so consistent this year,” said Sailer.

“Penn State is a powerful club, they have some kids who are just tall and strong. I thought our defense did a great job and Ellie made some awesome saves.”

Sailer praised Penn State with doing a good job down the stretch as it overcame a 12-11 Princeton lead to score the final three goals of the contest and earn the victory.

“I think draw controls were a difference and we got a yellow card called on us so they had a man up advantage and they were able to get a shot clock reset,” said Sailer.

“We did have two opportunities. We had that great breakaway pass to [Elizabeth] George that I was sure was going to be a goal and somehow it seemed to hit the back of the goalie’s foot. We had another shot in transition with Olivia so we did have opportunities but we didn’t have the ball as much in the last few minutes of the game.”

Over the course of the spring, the Tigers continually seized opportunities.

“I thought the season was great, to be able to compete as well as we did early on against what was arguably the toughest schedule we have had in program history and to get big wins against Virginia, Loyola, Notre Dame, and Syracuse was just phenomenal,” said Sailer.

“We finished with the third highest RPI in the country, which is a testament to the strength of our schedule.”

Building on that fast start, Princeton got stronger and stronger as the season went on, looking particularly sharp as it beat Penn and Cornell to win the Ivy League tournament in early May.

“Looking back to our games in mid-March, even though we had some big wins, we just continued to get better and better,” added Sailer.

“You saw different kids come on really strong at the end of the year. I am glad at how some of our middies stepped up. Anna Doherty, Elizabeth George, and Kathryn Hallett really came on strong at the end of the year. Ellie McNulty had a really good game on Sunday at Penn State.”

In Sailer’s view, the team’s improvement was due, in large part, to the influence of its senior class.

“All six of them have been so integral to our success over the years, they were such great leaders for the team,” said Sailer,  whose senior class includes Maddie Rodriguez, Amanda Level, and Jeanie Dwindle in addition to DeGarmo, Doherty, and Hompe.

“They are such calm competitors and such hard competitors. They set a great example for the returning kids as to how to lead as a senior class. It is a huge void in terms of play on the field but we are excited with the group that we have returning and the freshmen coming in.”

Sailer is confident that her returning players will follow that example as Princeton looks to build on this year’s success.

“We always have determined and driven kids but this year it was a cut above,” said Sailer.

“They came back so strong in the fall. They were in great shape, they worked really hard over the summer. Throughout the year, they continued to improve and keep the fitness up. Individually and as a group, they kept getting better. They have had a taste now of what it feels like to play and succeed at the highest level. I think that will drive them and push them in the offseason through next year.”