Sparked by Junior Kennedy’s Breakthrough Tally, TPU Women’s Soccer Tops St. Joe’s in Home Opener
KENNEDY CENTER: Princeton University women’s soccer player Tomi Kennedy, center, celebrates after scoring the first goal in Princeton’s 3-0 win over St. Joseph’s in its home opener last Friday evening. The 20th-ranked Tigers, who dropped to 3-1 on the season with a 3-1 loss to No. 13 N.C. State on Sunday, will look to get back in the winning track as they play at Rider on September 6 before hosting Hofstra on September 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Tomi Kennedy felt snakebitten last fall in her sophomore season with the Princeton University women’s soccer team.
While the forward/midfielder tallied four assists in helping Princeton win the Ivy League title and reach the NCAA quarterfinals, she never found the back of the net in the 2017 campaign.
“Last year was pretty frustrating, for sure. I think I hit the post more than anybody,” said Kennedy, a native of Glen Ridge, who scored three goals with an assist as a freshman in 2016.
It didn’t take long for Kennedy to put that frustration behind her last Friday evening as 20th-ranked Princeton hosted St. Joseph’s in its home opener.
Taking a pass from Abby Givens, Kennedy booted the ball past the St. Joe’s goalie to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead just 6:45 into the contest.
“Abby was playing the ball across and I saw it kind of going to Olivia Sheppard’s feet,” recalled Kennedy.
“I was hoping that it would keep going because you never know, so I took a touch and just saw an opening and it was ‘let me just slot it to the bottom right corner.’ It was really nice to have one work out they way I intended it to.”
Buoyed by a raucous home win over the previously undefeated Hawks.
“It was great to be back home. Last weekend was an unbelievable weekend for us in terms of soccer and team bonding,” said Kennedy, referring to the team’s season-opening trip to New England which saw it earn a 2-0 win at the University of New Hampshire followed by a 1-0 victory at Boston University.
“In terms of being back, nothing beats a home opener under the lights. The atmosphere was definitely leveraged for us and we capitalized on that.”
It has been great for Kennedy to play up front with senior star Mimi Asom, who scored two goals on the second half against St. Joseph’s and then added another tally two days later as the Tigers fell 3-1 to No. 13 N.C. State.
“Mimi is killing it so far. Four goals in the first three games speaks for itself,” said Kennedy.
“She is always someone who will capitalize on opportunities and we can always rely on her in the final third and today she came up big just like she did last weekend, just like I know that she will in the coming games.”
Kennedy is excited with how Princeton’s new look defense performed in starting the season with three clean sheets.
“We lost three defenders from last year,” said Kennedy. “We were a bit nervous coming in with a young back line. They have been clicking and doing unbelievably well for a team that hasn’t really played together. To have three shutouts is incredible and Natalie [Grossi] has been coming up big in goal.”
With Princeton saying goodbye to a stellar group of seniors who spearheaded last year’s squad, Kennedy and her fellow veterans needed to step up.
“That class had left such a stamp on the program across the board, they were so impactful,” said Kennedy.
“Although I knew we had a strong core, I was a bit nervous about how we would click after losing such good leadership. As you can see, it is turning out well. Underclassmen have been stepping up and the people with experience have been leveraging that.”
Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll was happy to see Kennedy make an early impact against St. Joseph’s.
“It was a great goal; Tomi has worked really, really hard,” said Driscoll.
“She is a very good player and it is good to see her get a goal and get her confidence up. I like the way she played.” Reflecting on the win over the Hawks, Driscoll liked the way his team responded to the home crowd.
“It was a good atmosphere; it is hard not to be excited when you have that many people cheering for you,” said Driscoll. “The girls were revved up. They played with a great amount of confidence and enthusiasm, and that is a really good team we beat.”
Princeton’s play at both ends was exciting to Driscoll. “We did really well defending them; we didn’t allow any corner kicks,” said Driscoll.
“They have scored all seven of their goals this year on set pieces so they are very dangerous. They are very athletic, they are very physical. We negated that part of their game which was great. We moved the ball well and we combined well. I thought everyone was engaged and focused.”
Asom showed her focus in the second half, tallying twice in a 6:53 span to put the game away for the Tigers.
“The set piece was great and then the finish on the second goal was wonderful,” said Driscoll. “She is leading by example and creating opportunities. I am happy for her.”
While Princeton didn’t have a good finish in the loss to N.C. State as it yielded two goals in the last 6:13 of the contest after goalie Grossi was red-carded, Driscoll saw the matchup as a good early season measuring stick.
“We will see where we are, they are ranked above us,” said Driscoll, whose team, now 3-1, will look to get back on the winning track as it plays at Rider on September 6 before hosting Hofstra on September 9. “That is a really good opportunity for us.”
Kennedy, for her part, believes that Princeton has the opportunity to produce another special campaign.
“I don’t want to jinx anything in the future,” said Kennedy. “It is an unbelievable start and if we can continue this, I think we could do great things.”