After Memorable Run to NCAA Final 4 Last Fall, PU Field Hockey Bringing Confidence Into 2017
MAC ATTACK: Princeton University field hockey player Ryan McCarthy follows through on a shot in a 2016 game. Senior striker McCarthy, who scored 14 goals last year on the way to earning first-team All-Ivy League honors, should be the go-to finisher for the Tigers this year. Princeton opens its 2017 season by hosting North Carolina on September 1 before playing at Delaware on September 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Although it fell just short of winning its 12th straight Ivy League title, the Princeton University field hockey team didn’t let that disappointment keep it from turning 2016 into a season to remember, producing a stunning run in the NCAA tournament.
Getting into the tourney through an at-large bid, Princeton proceeded to advance to the Final 4 where it lost a 3-2 nail-biter in the semifinal to eventual national champion Delaware.
In the view of Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente, that late surge is spurring her returning players as the team prepares for the 2017 campaign.
“You set your goals but you really don’t know what it feels like or what the experience is like,” said Tagliente, who guided the Tigers to a 12-8 record last fall in her debut season at the helm of the program.
“I think having gone through it and now having a number of players in the program having experienced it, the desire is high to be back there. It does help too that it isn’t our first season as a staff.”
In Tagliente’s view, the Tigers have an infusion of talent to go with that experience.
“We also have a lot more depth than we had last year in all positions,” said Tagliente, whose team is ranked 8th nationally and opens the season by hosting North Carolina on September 1 before playing at Delaware on September 3.
At striker, senior star Ryan McCarthy (14 goals and 5 assists in 2016) should find herself in position to score frequently this fall.
“Ryan is looking very good; she had a good summer,” said Tagliente, noting that McCarthy trained with the U.S. national program this summer.
“She had a lot of good experiences, we have expanded her game a little bit. We have involved her in penalty corners and she should be a pivotal part of that as well. It will be good because it will give her an opportunity to score from multiple facets of the game.”
Junior Sophia Tornetta (9 goals, 10 assists) has the potential to emerge as a pivotal player, healing up after dealing with injuries last fall.
“She finally was at full speed at the end of the spring; I had never seen her 100 percent to she what she could do,” said Tagliente, noting that a trio of freshman, Marge Lynch, Emma Street, and Clara Roth could see time at striker along with junior Jane Donio-Enscoe (4 goals, 3 assists), senior Lexi Quirk (3 goals, 2 assists), and senior Rachel Park (2 goals, 1 assist).
“In the spring games against Penn State and Delaware, her impact was pretty clear. She spent a lot of time this summer playing and then focusing on her fitness. She is looking pretty good so far.”
Princeton boasts some impact players in midfield in sophomore Krista Hoffman (2 goals, 2 assists), junior Nicole Catalino (1 assist), junior Elise Wong (7 assists), freshman Mary Kate Neff, and freshman Julianna Tornetta.
“Our midfield is going to be retooled; Hoffman will get minutes at side midfield; she will also get minutes up front,” said Tagliente.
“Catalino is coming back and playing defensive midfield. You might see Sophia Tornetta playing some attack midfield. Her younger sister Julianna will portably primarily play attack midfield. Mary Kate Neff is a powerful, dynamic player, you will see her on the ground a lot, mixing stuff up. You will also see Roth playing side middie and attacking midfield too. Elise Wong played in the midfield and in the back last year. I think she will probably play a more attacking role for us this year at outside midfield, which will be a big change for her and for us.”
The Tiger defense will be spearheaded by a pair of sophomores Maddie Bacskai (2 goals, 3 assists) and sophomore Carlotta van Gierke (2 goals, 7 assists) along with junior Annabeth Donovan-Davis, who is returning after a two-year absence from the program.
“Maddie and Carlotta played defense last year so they will be back in there again,” said Tagliente, whose backfield will also include senior Danielle Duseau, sophomore Susan Orth, and senior Sarah Brennan, a former Princeton Day School standout.
“Annabeth is back after not playing the last two years. She is working into it. When you haven’t played consistently for two years, it is a lot. She is hanging in there. She is a big voice, a big presence. She organizes really well, sometimes her body is not doing what she wants it to do quite yet but I think she will be super valuable.”
Versatile freshman Marge Lynch could emerge as a particularly valuable player for the Tigers. “Marge plays up front and in the back, which is weird combination,” said Tagliente
“She has a big hit, she is dynamic and can get on the ground in the circle. I think she will split time equally between both, you will see her on penalty corners a lot.”
After serving as the team’s only goalie last fall, sophomore Grace Baylis (2.08 goals against average and .660 save percentage in 2016) returns, getting joined by freshman Grace Brightbill.
“I think it will keep Baylis a little more fresh,” said Tagliente, assessing the addition of Brightbill.
“It also helps her when they are doing stuff and getting one-on-one instruction. It is very hard if you can never watch someone else do it and you are always the one doing it.”
Tagliente believes her team can do very well this fall if it keeps focused on getting better.
“The main key for us right now is how quickly can we come together and how we ride out the season,” said Tagliente.
“How we look now is not how we are going to look in November. It is really important that we continue to grow, evolve, and improve. If we stay stagnant and don’t grow through the season, then we won’t get to where we want to go.
Taking on national powers No. 1 North Carolina (1-1) and No. 3 Delaware (1-1) on opening weekend should help Princeton see where it needs to grow as a team.
“Both teams are beatable but both teams are very strong,” said Tagliente. “It gives us a big opportunity to see where we are at and it gives us an opportunity to boost the confidence of the group as well.”