May 23, 2018

Showing Progress in Late Surge, NCAA Run; Tiger Women’s Lax Sees Good Times Ahead

SERIOUSLY GOOD: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Kyla Sears heads to goal in a game this season. Freshman attacker Sears produced a sensational debut campaign for the Tigers, scoring 83 points on 64 goals and 19 assists to set the Princeton and Ivy League record for most goals and points by a freshman. The play of Sears helped Princeton go 9-2 in its last 11 games on the way to going 13-6, winning the Ivy tournament and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tourney. With Sears returning along with four of the team’s other five top scorers this spring and the whole defense, the future looks bright for the Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In late March, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team dug an early hole against visiting Syracuse and ended up losing 17-16 to the Orange as a late rally fell short.

Just over six weeks later, the foes met for a rematch in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and this time, Princeton jumped out to an early lead and then produced a late comeback to pull out a 12-11 double overtime triumph over the Orange.

In reflecting on the win in the May 11 contest, Princeton head coach Chris Sailer said the Tigers didn’t make many tactical adjustments from the first meeting between the teams.

“I don’t think it was us trying to do anything differently,” said Sailer. “We have really grown a lot as a team since that time. We just wanted to play the game we were capable of.”

The season ended for Princeton two days later as it fell short in a tough game against Boston College, losing 16-10 to the Eagles, who will be playing in the NCAA Final 4 this weekend.

“We knew we had to play a great game; we all had to be on point all game long,” said Sailer

“We felt like if we could do that, we would stand a good chance to win. We were just off a little bit with a lot of things, whether it was getting stripped or missing a shot where we could have buried it. We certainly had opportunities. The game was fairly even. They ended up with more shots (35-25) than us but it was pretty even in terms of turnovers (19-18 edge for BC) and ground balls (17-14 edge for BC). We couldn’t get over that hump towards the end. We had a couple of goals called back and that kind of hurt.”

While the loss in the finale hurt, Princeton gained a lot from the NCAA experience.

“All in all, it was a good weekend for us,” said Sailer. “It was great for us to see that is the level of team and higher that we have to be able to beat in order to ultimately be where we would like to be. We felt like we competed well.”

The Tigers showed competitive fire as they bounced back from a shaky first month of the season on the way to going 13-6, winning the Ivy tournament, and advancing in the NCAA tourney.

“A 4-4 start was not a place we had been accustomed to in recent years, especially after the loss to Dartmouth,” said Sailer.

“March was a tough month for us, but we really started to pull ourselves out of that with a great game against Syracuse the first time around and then really excellent play down at Delaware (a 15-6 win on March 31) that steamrolled in a positive direction for us since then.”

Sailer cited the impact of her seniors, Camille Sullivan, Ellie McNulty, Abby Finkelston, Colby Chanenchuk, Mary Kate McDonough, and Haley Giraldi, in helping the team to get going in the right direction.

“It was significant impact from the kids who are stars on the field and play all the time and make plays to kids who are on the sideline, just being great examples of energy, effort and selflessness and giving to the team in a lot of different ways,” said Sailer, noting the team’s Class of 2018 is one of three classes in program history who won or shared four Ivy titles, highlighted by three Ivy tournament championships.

“With the group that we graduated last year, they really had to step up and drive the bus this year and they did that.”

With five of its six top scorers slated to return along with its whole defense, Princeton could be looking at a big year in 2019.

“We are really excited about the future and what we have coming back; the entire defense will be back and all of the offense except for Colby Chanenchuk,” said Sailer.

“In the midfield, we will lose Ellie McNulty and Camille Sullivan so that will be our biggest losses. This year, we had a lot of kids who came in off the bench and played more major roles and stepped up. It is always interesting to see how that is going to turn out. The freshmen were phenomenal; we started five of them for half of the year. You look at the defense, it was three freshman, a sophomore who hadn’t played a whole heck of a lot and a freshman in the goal. I think that just bodes really well.”

But Hall of Fame coach Sailer knows that it will take more than talent for things to go well next season.

“As long as we stay committed to the process and work hard everyday, bring the new kids along, and really keep our eyes on what our goals are, we are certainly going to start from a very different spot,” said Sailer.

“We were sorting out our lineup halfway through the season, so now we are returning most everyone on our team and we will be able to fill spots where needed. The kids really have a feel for playing together, which is great.”