Boasting Explosive Attack, Battle-Tested Defense, No. 8 PU Women’s Lax Primed For Special Spring
BY GEORGE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Elizabeth George heads to goal in a 2018 game. Senior star attacker George, who tallied 43 goals last spring, will be a key performer for the Tigers this season. Princeton, ranked 8th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse national poll, gets its 2019 season underway by hosting Temple on February 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Having won the Ivy League title in each of their first three seasons and advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals along the way, the seniors on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team are determined to go out with a bang this spring.
“The seniors have been a part of Ivy League championship teams their entire career so they don’t want that streak to end; they really want to get further,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, whose team went 13-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy League last spring, winning the league’s postseason tournament and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tourney.
“The seniors did a great job of organizing the kids in the offseason in January to come into the preseason in February, ready to go with their sights on what they want out of the year.”
The sense of urgency demonstrated by the seniors has been permeating the program as the team has gone through its preseason paces in preparation for opening the season by hosting Temple on February 16.
“Practices have been going well; our day-to- day focus is just getting better every day and being ready to compete for the games that we have coming up,” said Sailer, who is in her 33rd season guiding the program and has 399 career wins. “We do have an experienced and talented team. We continually want to improve from year to year.”
The Tigers, who are ranked 8th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse national poll, boast a lot of returning firepower in the attack unit with the return of senior Elizabeth George (43 goals and 6 assists in 2018), junior Tess D’Orsi (42 goals, 14 assists), sophomore Kayla Sears (64 goals, 19 assists), and senior Allie Rogers (18 goals, 9 assists).
“I think our attack will be a strong suit for us,” said Sailer, who is also welcoming back senior Julia Haney (10 goals, 7 assists), junior Laura Pansini (1 assist), and junior Kate Reilly.
“We have got Georgie, who we are moving to attack from midfield position permanently. She is just such a strong driver. Tess is lightning quick. Her moves are amazing, she has had a great preseason. Kyla is such a threat and dangerous in so many different ways. Allie has been playing great this year, she is an ankle-breaker. She is so quick with her change of direction.”
Sailer is expecting senior Kathryn Hallett (29 goals, 4 assists) to direct the midfield.
“Kathryn will be a great leader for us in the midfield,” asserted Sailer, whose other main returner in the midfield is senior Izzy Mangan (2 goals, 1 assist).
“She is just such a hustler out there. As a senior she is really improved in her composure, and I think that is really going to make a big difference for her. She is so fast and so strong. She can make a lot of big plays and she is going to have a really young midfield group around her.”
The midfield group will be featuring a quintet of freshmen in Shannon Berry, Lucie Gildehaus, Maria Pansini, Shea Smith, and Lillian Stout.
“Our freshmen are really going to make an impact in the midfield, that is our biggest area of loss from graduation,” said Sailer.
“Those five will play a combination of middie or maybe that fifth attacker spot potentially. It will be great for them to get experience with such a strong class at either end. We will be looking for them to use that experience moving forward.”
On defense, the return of senior Alex Argo (31 ground balls), sophomore Olivia Pugh (20 ground balls), sophomore Mary Murphy (19 ground balls), senior Nonie Andersen (3 goals, 1 assist, 23 ground balls), sophomore Marge Donovan (37 ground balls), and sophomore Maddie Staczek (3 ground balls) gives the Tigers a battle-tested crew on the back line.
“We didn’t graduate one kid from the defensive unit; they are just improving everyday and we have more depth,” said Sailer.
“Maddie came off the bench last year when Nonie was injured and did a great job for us. You have our trio of sophomores in Olivia Pugh, Mary Murphy, and Marge Donovan. Murphy was an All-Ivy Tournament selection, Marge led the team in draw controls from the circle, and Pugh is one of the breakout kids on our team this year. She has had such a great preseason and fall. That is definitely going to be a strength for us with those guys, getting that full year of experience, and combining with Nonie and Argo, who are leaders of the unit.”
The Tigers found a star last year in goalie Sam Fish (10.58 goals against average, .440 save percentage), who emerged as a second-team All-Ivy selection in her freshman campaign.
“Fish continues to improve; she has done a lot of work on her own and just gets better and better,” said Sailer.
“When you have a kid that is that good behind you in the cage, you can take some more risks defensively. If a kid gets by you, you know we still have a chance to make that save with Fish. That is a big difference between our team last year and this year. For the first half of the season, we were searching. M.K. [McDonough] played well early, and then Fish eventually emerged. Now that role is hers, she is fully confident and comfortable in it.”
Sailer is confident that the Tigers can have a big season if they can stay away from injuries, excel on the draw, and get good production from the freshman midfielders.
“We have to stay as healthy as possible, that is always something that is critical; injures always happen and you just go to the next kid up,” said Sailer.
“I think draws will be key for us, we did lose Ellie McNulty, who was big on the draw circle for us. This year we will have George, who was also a draw taker for us, and a couple of the freshmen have been working in. And then how quickly do the freshmen develop in the midfield? That is a tough position for freshmen because you have to learn the defensive systems, the offensive systems, and understand everything.”
Looking ahead to the matchup against Temple this Saturday, Sailer is looking to see development at both ends of the field.
“I want us to really assert ourselves and just play our game,” said Sailer.
“I would love to see us competing in the draw circle and just playing a smart game offensively and defensively, making our possessions count; not rushing or forcing things but really working their defense and trying to come up with some really nice scoring opportunities. Defensively, we want to be playing a nice team game, being aggressive but limiting fouls. It is just doing the little things right as a team and going out there and competing hard.”