September 20, 2017

Defender Symanovich Brings Offensive Punch, Helping No. 20 PU Women’s Soccer Top Delaware

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s soccer player Mikaela Symanovich controls the ball in recent action. Last Sunday, senior defender Symanovich tallied a goal as 20th-ranked Princeton defeated Delaware 3-0. The Tigers, now 7-1, host Yale on September 23 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though Mikaela Symanovich has established herself as a stalwart on the back line for the Princeton University women’s soccer team, that doesn’t mean she can’t be a threat on the attacking end as well.

Last Sunday against visiting Delaware, senior star Symanovich headed a corner kick from classmate Vanessa Gregoire into the back of the net to give Princeton a 1-0 lead at the 15:53 mark.

“This season, I have been getting up for a lot of corners; I am just hungry for goals,” said Symanovich, a native of San Francisco, Calif. who now has two goals and an assist this season.

“I want to set a precedent for our entire team. There shouldn’t just be a single player who is scoring every single goal. Our team has done the best when we have had goals come from lots of different players and had lots of different types of goals. I was just really pumped to get one for the team.”

The goals kept coming for 20th-ranked Princeton as it pulled away to a 3-0 win over the Blue Hens, improving to 7-1.

Hitting the field on Sunday, the Tigers were pumped up to bounce back from a tough 1-0 loss to No. 6 and 2016 national runner-up West Virginia two days earlier.

“The motivation was higher because of our loss; West Virginia is a really talented team but I don’t think anyone on our side was really content with that game, especially with the first half,” said Symanovich.

“We felt we sat in a little too much; we didn’t necessarily give them everything that we could have. The team in general was a little ticked off from that game; we had more to give and we wanted to show that today.”

The team’s back line has given Princeton a lot this season, yielding only two goals and posting six shutouts through eight games.

“Our defensive unit is very tight this year, we are best friends and I think it reflects with our communication through the back,” said Symanovich, who is joined in the defensive unit by classmates Natalie Larkin and Katie Pratt-Thompson along with sophomore Olivia Sheppard and freshman Lucy Rickerson.

“There is a lot of chemistry. We want to play with each other and connect passes. We have just been trying to improve on our possession out of the back and having our offense really build through us.”

Symanovich and her fellow seniors have taken it upon themselves to build team unity.

“I think my class is just incredibly motivated; we have had ups and downs throughout our time at Princeton so far,” said Symanovich, who is one of seven members of the Class of 2018 on the Princeton roster.

“This team, all around, from the freshmen to the seniors is incredibly talented and motivated and my class just wants to lead everyone through that.”

Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll sensed that his team was motivated to get back on the winning track after the loss to West Virginia.

“Actions speak louder than words, let’s see what you do on a Sunday. Do you come back and really play and have an emphatic win or do you come out and not give your best effort?” said Driscoll.

“We don’t know, we will see. Great teams come back and have a really good response and they responded exceptionally well. We played really well, I was really impressed.”

Driscoll has been impressed with Symanovich’s play in her final campaign.

“Mikaela was a forward when I came in and we liked her tenacity and put her in the back,” said Driscoll.

“She has had a tremendous career. She is playing the best I have ever seen her play. She gets better every year, her and Natalie [Larkin] both. They have been really, really good. Mikaela got a goal against N.C. State, she got a goal here and got an assist the other day. I am happy for her, she has worked supremely hard.”

Sophomore striker Abby Givens has emerged as a tremendous force up top for the Tigers, scoring two goals in the win over Delaware to give her a team-high six on the season.

“Abby is a very special player, she is very talented and can play in any of the wide areas,” said Driscoll, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton build a 24-1 edge in shots.

“She can play as a center forward. She is relentless, she has a blue collar mentality. She has got a lot of talent and a nose for the goal. You put together hard work with talent and a nose for the goal and good things happen.”

Assessing his team’s 7-1 start, Driscoll is seeing good things happening all over the field.

“The back line had another shutout, we have played eight games and we have six shutouts,” said Driscoll.

“We have scored 17 and conceded two. If you had told me back when the season started that we would be 7-1 in the first 8 games I don’t know if I would not have believed you but I will certainly take it. It is about as well as we could have done with the exception of West Virginia, which was a hard fought game.”

Opening its Ivy League campaign by hosting Yale (6-2-1) this Saturday, Driscoll is expecting a hard battle from the Bulldogs.

“I like where we are, I think we are in a good mindset now,” said Driscoll.

“Yale has had a very good year and a good start, they are going to be one of the better teams in the league for sure and it will be a good test for us. That first game is a huge one so hopefully we can ride the momentum. We have been pretty good at home so far, we have just lost the one game. Hopefully we can continue in a positive direction.”

Symanovich, for her part, is looking for a more positive result against Yale on Saturday than the 1-1 tie in last year’s clash between the rivals.

“We have a score to settle from last year; we tied them and we were not at all content with that,” said Symanovich, noting that Princeton started 7-1 in 2016 only to go 2-3-2 in Ivy play.

“This year we just want to come out and make that right. I don’t think anyone is content with 7-1 at this point because anything can happen in Ivy League and that is a very high priority for us right now.”