Special Journey Ends for PU Women’s Lax Seniors As Tigers Fall to Boston College in NCAA Quarters
FINAL SALVO: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Kathryn Hallett heads upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Hallett scored four goals in a losing cause as seventh-seeded Princeton fell 17-12 at second-seeded Boston College in the NCAA quarterfinals. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 16-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Each senior on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team had the chance to tell their story to the team before a game this season.
They would talk about their journey from freshman year until this, their senior year, through the ups and downs of being a Princeton student, of injuries and setbacks, and of triumphs and titles. It’s a tradition that started five years ago, just before this year’s senior class joined the program.
“It really does personalize everybody and give you a better sense that a lot of kids weren’t starters the moment they got here, and in some cases they had to wait their time and grow and improve, or fight through injury,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.
“Ultimately they were good enough to earn a spot. It’s unusual to have so many seniors that played significant roles for us on the field. But they’re a great example of what can happen if you work hard and bring a great attitude.”
Their journey in the program came to an end with a 17-12 loss to second-seeded Boston College last Saturday in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. BC improved to 21-1 and will face North Carolina in the semifinals with Maryland and Northwestern squaring off in the other semi. The Tigers finish the season 16-4 and on Monday began looking to next year in exit meetings with players.
“There are definitely some big shoes to fill,” said Sailer. “We need everybody ready to step up and really challenge for open spots. We have some good freshmen coming in which is exciting. We have some great returners. Our goalie [Sam Fish] and our defense returns and Kyla [Sears] and Tess [D’Orsi], but we’re graduating so many of our points and half of our midfield and a lot of our speed. We all just need to be ready to work to improve our skillsets and athleticism.”
Princeton will graduate Nonie Andersen, Alex Argo, Elizabeth George, Kathryn Hallett, Julia Haney, Izzy Mangan and Allie Rogers. Athleticism is something that stuck out in the seven seniors when they were freshmen. The run test is one of the first things they do when they arrive to campus and the results wowed.
“Their work ethic and how hard they push themselves in their training really did elevate the team as a whole,” said Sailer.
“And they weren’t superstars from the moment they got here. Argo started the most games and a number of them got playing time as a freshman, Argo was probably the most impactful of the freshmen, but they worked their way up. They earned starting positions and got better each year. They’re incredible examples of what you can become if you bring great energy and keep working hard. They’re also full of personality. They love each other, they bring energy and laughter and fun into everything they do. That personality piece is another piece that we’ll miss.”
Hallett matched her career-high with four goals in the loss to BC that snapped Princeton’s 11-game winning streak. Rogers had a hat trick. Sophomore star Sears had a goal and two assists. while junior D’Orsi had a goal. George had a goal and assist. Sophomore goalie Fish made nine saves.
Princeton led 6-4 after 24 minutes before BC took a 7-6 lead on three straight goals before halftime. D’Orsi’s goal knotted the contest at 7-7 a minute into the second half but Boston College responded with five straight goals to take control.
“BC is going to get their goals,” said Sailer. “They have three phenomenal attackers and a really great feeder. Early in the game, it was their support players on offense, not the big three that were putting the balls in the cage. And then [Sam] Apuzzo stepped up and Kenzie Kent had fantastic feeds and they started clicking. It’s tough to hold them off. I thought our defense did a pretty good job, but they’re smart players and they have good ball movement. They’d thread the ball in where it felt like we had it covered and she’d just take it and rifle a shot against Fish, who’s a great keeper.”
Possession hurt the Tigers as Boston College built a 21-10 advantage in draw controls, making it difficult for the Tigers to rally.
“I think they had 11 extra possessions than we did, and two or three times we won the draw and turned it right over, so really it’s more like 13 or 14 extra possessions, and that’s significant in the game of lacrosse when you play a team that’s scoring at a 50 percent pace on their shots,” said Sailer.
“I think that really ultimately made the difference in the game. And we did have our opportunities. We had at least three or four shots that we wanted to have back. If things go a little differently, I think the result could have been different. Going into that game, you know you have to play a great game for 60 minutes all over the field and I think our kids competed hard. We fought hard to the end and we got some goals down the stretch and our defense was able to get some turnovers against them. I was proud of the way we competed.”
It’s the second straight season that Boston College has knocked Princeton out of the NCAA tournament. Last year, it was a 16-10 loss on the first weekend of play. Both teams returned with many of the same players.
“I think it was pretty similar,” said Sailer. “We felt really good going into that game. We felt really good about our season and our personnel and how we’d been playing and how we match up. I think there was a lot of confidence and belief in our end. I think there were key draws, they anticipate so well. We’re a fast team and they’d have a step on us. They always seemed to be where the ball was and they’d pop it to a teammate and that made such a difference for them, those extra possessions.”
Princeton’s resiliency all spring is one reason it still held onto hope of a comeback even when Boston College broke away in the second half. The Tigers had climbed out of an early hole in the Ivy League season after a loss to Brown to win the league regular season championship for the sixth straight year and they went on to capture the Ivy tourney title for a third straight season.
“That’s pretty phenomenal for our kids,” said Sailer. “The Ivy League is so competitive and there are usually two, if not three teams, in the NCAA tournament every year and every other team thinking they can knock you off. To be able to beat teams like Penn, Dartmouth and Cornell and go back a week or two later and beat them again, that’s not easy. When you play at Princeton, your number one goal to win your conference. After our loss to Brown, we were able to bounce back and win tough games on the road at Dartmouth, at Penn, at Cornell and secure the championship and then bring home the tournament title as well.”
It’s the high standard that the returning players were targeting when they met with Sailer and her staff on Monday to start to turn the page on another great season and look ahead to the 2020 campaign.
“We’ll be talking about ways each player can improve and what we’re looking for from them,” said Sailer.
“At the same time that we have a lot to replace. It’s exciting for other kids in the program to see some more opportunities and that they can work to gain more playing time.”