With Catalino Providing Energy in the Midfield, PU Field Hockey Fights Hard in Loss to UNC
CAT QUICK: Princeton University field hockey player Nicole Catalino controls the ball last Friday as the Tigers hosted North Carolina in their season opener. Junior defensive midfielder Catalino played well in a losing cause as Princeton fell 2-0 to the Tar Heels. The Tigers, who lost 5-3 to defending national champion Delaware on Sunday to fall to 0-2, host Rutgers on September 8 and Penn State on September 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Nicole Catalino resembles the Energizer Bunny in her spot as a defensive midfielder for the Princeton University field hockey team, constantly on the move as she tracks the ball all over the field.
Junior standout Catalino relishes being in the middle of the action. “I have more influence on the rest of the players through experience and just the role I play on the field,” said Catalino.
“I am very central in cleaning up most of the balls. We have a very young team and they have been great coming to us, asking us for advice.”
Last Friday, as eighth-ranked Princeton hosted No. 1 North Carolina in its season opener, Catalino knew that Tiger defense would be coming under fire against the high-powered Tar Heels.
“In practice we have been working a lot on transition after we lose the ball and our recovery defense,” said Catalino.
“It is just being strong on the ball and having the confidence when these really good girls are coming and dribbling down the middle. A lot of our focus was on the press and starting the press early on their forwards.”
While Princeton ended up losing 2-0, Catalino saw progress as the game went on.
“We definitely improved but there are still a lot of areas that we need to work on,” said Catalino.
“They are strong players and they came in with a really good mindset. They play like they are No. 1 in the country; we need to work on having the same confidence.”
Although the Tigers were at a disadvantage with Carolina having come into Friday with two games under its belt, Catalino and her teammates see the benefit of that scenario.
“Every season we come in and play the top team, it is definitely a challenge,” said Catalino.
“It is definitely tough having a strong mindset when we are already a week behind because they start the season earlier. I don’t think we would choose to start the season any other way.”
Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente acknowledged that North Carolina was sharper than Princeton on the day.
“Overall Carolina was a bit stronger on the ball and just had more presence about them,” said Tagliente.
“We just caved into that a little bit. If we came in with a little more presence about us and a little more grit, I think we probably would have knocked a couple in there. We were generating opportunities but they would end between the 50 and the 25 with a weak dispossession. We are getting the rust off.”
For the most part, Princeton produced a strong defensive effort. “Outside of the first five minutes, I think they did a really nice job,” said Tagliente.
“Annabeth [Donovan-Davis] and Maddie [Bacskai] and Elise [Wong] and Carlotta [von Gierke] stepped in there. MK [Mary Kate Neff] came in and provided a little more power, outletting out of the back. I think overall defensively, we were sound.”
Tagliente credits Catalino with sparking the defense. “Nicole has been playing really well and that is a tough position, defensive midfield,” said Tagliente, whose squad had another tough day on Sunday, losing 5-3 at third-ranked and defending national champion Delaware with freshman Julianna Tornetta tallying two goals to spark the Tiger attack.
“She is the anchor of what we are doing in there. I would like to see her get some more balls on attack, she is more of a defensive player.”
In reflecting on the challenge of facing Carolina and Delaware on opening weekend, Tagliente believes it will harden her team going forward.
“They have to step on the field with a lot more grit to them and presence about them and grow up a little bit,” said Tagliente, whose squad will looking to get on the winning track when it hosts Rutgers on September 8 and Penn State on September 10.
“We were weak on the ball and had an expectation that things would be a little bit easier. This is the big leagues right now and they have to toughen up.”
Catalino, for her part, doesn’t believe that Princeton will be fazed by a tough start, noting that the Tigers lost the season opener to North Carolina in 2016 before eventually advancing to the NCAA Final 4.
“Look at us last year and previous years, not that we haven’t done well sometimes on the opening weekend but it is a good benchmark,” said Catalino. “We know this isn’t the end, it is an incline from here.”