Sparked by Sophomore Tornetta’s Offensive Skill, PU Field Hockey Edges Harvard, Heads to Final 4
STICKING WITH IT: Princeton University field hockey player Julianna Tornetta gets ready to strike the ball in NCAA tournament action last weekend. On Sunday, sophomore star Tornetta scored a goal and added an assist as Princeton rallied from a 1-0 deficit to defeat Harvard 2-1 in the NCAA quarters. The third-seeded Tigers, now 15-4, will face second-seeded Maryland (21-2) on November 16 in the national semis in Louisville, Ky. with the winner advancing to the title game on November 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
With the Princeton University field hockey team trailing visiting Harvard 1-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals with 11:34 remaining in the second half, Julianna Tornetta was on the spot, literally.
Lining up a penalty stroke in a one-on-one confrontation seven yards in front of Harvard goalie Ellie Shahbo, Princeton sophomore star midfielder Tornetta had the chance to even up the tense contest with one swing of her stick.
“It is definitely very nerve-wracking when you are down 1-0; I have been in that position where I have taken a stroke and not made it,” said Tornetta.
“You have to clear your head and just say OK, if it doesn’t go in we are still going to play hard and come back from behind. It did go in so that was a pleasant surprise.”
Just over six minutes later, Tornetta helped another ball go in for the Tigers, making a deft no-look pass to assist on a goal by Maddie Bacskai off of a penalty corner to give Princeton a 2-1 lead.
“That is something that we practiced a lot,” said Tornetta. “Maddie and I have been playing together for a long time. We have a connection which makes the corner a lot better.”
Princeton held things together, going on to a 2-1 win over the Crimson, who had defeated the Tigers 3-1 in a regular season contest on October 20.
The third-seeded Tigers, now 15-4, will face second-seeded Maryland (21-2) on November 16 in the national semis in Louisville, Ky. with the winner advancing to the title game on November 18 against the victor of the other semi between North Carolina and Wake Forest. It marks the eighth trip to the Final 4 in program history for Princeton.
Even though the Tigers surrendered a goal early in the second half after the rivals battled to a scoreless stalemate in the first half, Tornetta and her teammates weren’t fazed.
“We felt really connected and really strong,” said Tornetta. “They had a really good shot on goal so credit to them but we all still felt real good. It wasn’t hopeless that we can come back.”
In Tornetta’s view, Princeton’s special team chemistry helped it overcome a Harvard team that came into the day riding a 14-game winning streak.
“We are really close; we don’t play to try to be the best player on the field or get the goal,” said Tornetta. “We play for each other and because we play for each other and fight for each other, it just really brings us together. We can’t lose that way.”
Tornetta’s bond with older sister, senior star striker Sophia, brings that closeness to a higher level.
“When I say we are playing for each other, that has an entirely different meaning with her,” said Tornetta with her eyes misting up.
“This being her senior year and her last game on the turf here, I want this to be her absolute best season ever. I want this to be my best season with her because this is it.”
Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente believed her players would keep playing for each other in the face of the 1-0 deficit.
“All the family and friends this week kept saying whoever scores first is going to win,” said Tagliente.
“As soon as they scored, I am thinking just knock that out of your head. I felt like we were doing well enough and that if we could get one, we could get a quick two and we did.”
Tagliente tipped her hat to her sophomore star Tornetta. “Julianna did great; when you look at who she is matched up against, No. 10 [Bente van Vlijmen] is a very substantial player for them,” said Tagliente.
“She is very dangerous and physical; when she gets inside the 25, she can laser balls in there. Julianna doesn’t play really long, she plays tight. It is a hard game for her because she has got to move more. She did a great job and she kept going at it.”
In Tagliente’s view, her team’s depth and spirit make it dangerous.
“They just have big hearts and they are good players; this is the best team Princeton has put on the field since that national championship team [in 2012] from top to bottom,” said Tagliente.
“They have character. We have great players but it is not about one person. Our strength is that it is a collective effort. It is hard to defend; you have different people stepping up all the time.”
As they went into the rematch against Harvard, the Tigers were simply looking to get more time together as a group.
“The message for them yesterday was don’t focus on the Final 4, don’t focus on winning,” recalled Tagliente.
“Focus on playing together and extending the season. They have come a long way and they are a close group and that is really what it is about.”
Getting a rematch against powerhouse Maryland in the national semis, who edged the Tigers 5-4 on September 18 in a regular season meeting, Tagliente believes that Princeton can extend its season.
“There will be an intent and focus on who we are playing but for us it will going back and seeing where we need to improve,” said Tagliente, who guided the Tigers to the NCAA semis in 2016 where they lost 3-2 to eventual national champion Delaware.
“We will be looking at their set pieces and where can we expose them a little bit, but it is really reining in the enthusiasm and trying to rechannel it forward.”
Tornetta, for her part, is enthusiastic about the chance to play in her first Final 4.
“I have heard absolutely incredible things about it so I am really excited,” said Tornetta.
“I think we are going to do well because we are going to work hard together. We worked hard to get there and our hard work is paying off.”