August 8, 2018

Bacskai Making Impact for U.S. U-21 Squad After Breakthrough Season on PU Field Hockey

SKY HIGH: Princeton University field hockey player Maddie Bacskai advances the ball in a game last fall. Rising junior defender Bacskai emerged as one of the top performers in the nation in 2017, getting named as the Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and earning first-team All-American recognition. She was recently named to the U.S. U-21 team for another year, having first joined that squad in 2016. Next week, Bacskai and her Princeton teammates start preseason practices for the upcoming season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Maddie Bacskai made a big jump forward last fall in her sophomore season for the Princeton University field hockey team.

After a solid debut in 2016 which saw the star defender earn All-Ivy League honors, Bacskai emerged as one of the top performers in the nation, getting named as the Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and earning first-team All-American recognition.

“From my freshman year to my sophomore year, I made a lot of development, not only on the field, but mentally and as a leader on the team,” said Bacskai, a 5’5 native of Berwyn, Pa.

“I was much more comfortable in the backfield and defending as a center back. I was communicating more with the players in front of me and with our goalkeeper. I was much more vocal which helped me and helped my other teammates.”

In reflecting on her honors, Bacskai is quick to credit her teammates playing a key role in her success.

“It is really nice to get to get all of those accolades; it is about my teammates as well and how they are always helping and supporting me to get there,” said Bacskai, who scored four goals in 2017 after tallying two goals and three assists as a freshman.

“It is really exciting and cool to see my name up there. It is a confidence builder. It gives me the energy to keep pushing myself; I am always looking to get to that next level.”

Playing at a high level nationally, Bacskai was recently selected to compete again for the U.S. U-21 team.

“It is an honor just to say that I can represent my country,” said Bacskai, who first made that squad in 2016 and helped it earn a silver medal at the Junior Pan American Games and take fifth place in the Junior World Cup that year.

“I am also playing with some of the best girls in the U.S., so every training opportunity is competitive and really valuable.”

Training with her U.S. teammates has helped Bacskai home in on individual improvement.

“I feel like with school, you have goals to win certain games and get to the tournament,” said Bacskai.

“Whereas your mindset in this national team setting is that you want to get better; you want to compete not only with your teammates but with yourself. Something that we do with the U-21 program is that we have training goals at the beginning of every practice. You write down a makable training goal; it is kind of on your mind through the session. You are always keeping track, am I doing this, and how far am I from my goal, and at the end you reevaluate it.”

Getting joined on the U-21 team by Tiger teammates, rising senior Elise Wong and rising sophomore Mary Kate Neff, is a bonus for Bacskai.

“It is cool; they are some of your best friends from the team at school, and then you have this opportunity to play with them in this really intense training environment,” said Bacskai.

“I think it also helps the Princeton team as well. We try to bring back some of our drills and skills we learn at the national team practices and try to incorporate them and add them to our Princeton stuff.”

Displaying that skill, the three helped the Tiger defense hold the fort as it topped No. 5 Virginia 3-2 in overtime in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last fall.

“We were just looking to keep it simple and do our job and get the ball out of the back field,” said Bacskai.

“We were playing against really talented players, staying disciplined and focused. That was pretty much our goals and focus points going into each of those tournament games.”

While Princeton fell 3-2 to No. 4 North Carolina in the NCAA quarters, Bacskai believes that the Tigers can build on that performance going forward.

“We were definitely in the game pretty much the whole time,” said Bacskai. “We took that coming into next season.”

With the 2018 regular season starting for Princeton on August 31 when it plays North Carolina in Philadelphia, Pa., the Tigers will need to be on their game to hang in there against the powerful Tar Heels.

“We were looking to come out strong because most of our competition is right after the beginning of the schedule,” said Bacskai.

“We don’t have much time to readjust and get a handle on things. I am confident that we will get back to where we ended in the spring and last fall.”

As Bacskai and her teammates return to Princeton next week to start preseason practice, they are looking to make the most of their time together.

“The girls are really excited to get back on campus and get back in the swing of things,” said Bacskai.

“We have a lot of returning players and we also have some good incoming players, so I am looking forward to see how we come together and develop. I think we will be ready right from the start.”