September 11, 2019

Battling 2 Top-10 Foes on Opening Weekend, No. 5 Princeton Field Hockey Pulls Out Split

SPLIT DECISION: Princeton University field hockey player Hannah Davey goes after the ball in a 2018 game. Last Sunday, sophomore star midfielder Davey tallied a goal and an assist to help fifth-ranked Princeton edge No. 10 Wake Forest 2-1 in double overtime to wrap up its opening weekend. The Tigers, who fell 4-3 to No. 1 North Carolina on Friday to begin is campaign, host No. 20 Albany (1-2) on September 13 and No. 17 Penn State (0-3) on September 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Playing in 90 degree heat as it opened its season at top-ranked North Carolina last Friday, the No. 5 Princeton University field hockey team got off to a sizzling start.

Princeton jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Tar Heels 21:47 into the contest on goals by freshman Sammy Popper and senior Taylor Nolan and built a 3-1 advantage by halftime as Popper added another tally.

“We got off to a great start, we were very productive in the circle and we got a couple on the board,” said Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente.

“We very close to getting a few more. I thought the energy was good, I thought we had a great game plan.We were ready. We weren’t polished or perfect by any means.”

In the fourth quarter, UNC had a burst of energy, scoring three unanswered goals to pull out a 4-3 win over the Tigers.

“It was a combination of our inexperience and our over-exuberance; I think we were trying to play to hold on to the lead,” said Tagliente, reflecting on the last seven minutes of the contest.

“They did a nice job of increasing pressure, they pulled the goalie and added numbers to their attack. We didn’t help ourselves out.”

But rebounding from the heartbreaking loss, Princeton came back two days later and edged Wake Forest 2-1 in double overtime in a game also played in Chapel Hill.

“It took a little emotional toll on them; I don’t think we came out particularly sharp in the Wake game,” said Tagliente.

“In the second half, we picked things up a lot. At the end of regulation, it was 16-4 in shots for us. We were a little slow to get out of the gate. It is the second game on the road, it was 95 degrees down there. Credit to them, especially after the tough, emotional loss on Friday to be down for about half the game and to stick that out and then go through two overtimes. It is a pretty big confidence builder.”

Senior goalie Grace Baylis showed her toughness in the win over Wake, turning away a penalty stroke in overtime.

“That was big, especially after the UNC game where she gave up a stroke,” said Tagliente of Baylis who was later named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week after getting three saves against UNC and four stops in the win over Wake.

“The two strokes were almost in the same spot. She was in the right spot on the one against UNC, and somehow it deflected off and over her. For her to go through that and have that pressure, especially in the Wake game where it is game over if we get scored on; she made a great read and a great save on it.”

Feeling the heat against the two Top-10 foes to open the season should help Princeton down the road.

“We pretty much faced about every situation in hockey this weekend, other than a shootout,” added Tagliente. “It was a great learning experience.”

Tagliente learned that her defense needs to be tighter as it adjusts to the loss of  senior star Maddie Bacskai to injury and 2018 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Elise Wong to graduation.

“We have got a long way to go; it is the first weekend and we just need to clean things up,” said Tagliente.

“It is so hard being the first weekend to open with the caliber of opponents that we are playing and have positive  outcomes. They are two teams that play at a high pace and attack; they are going to give us every look in our defensive end that we can see this year. We have a ways to go in our backfield. I think we made great strides from Friday to Sunday, outletting in the back defensively and our organization back there. Without Maddie and filling in the holes of Elise, we just lack a little bit of presence and organization.”

The Tigers did display presence at the attacking end. “In both games, we generated a lot of shots,” said Tagliente, whose team had 16 shots against UNC and 18 against Wake.

“That is a good statistical marker. More of those shots will drop for us in the end. We had a lot of corners too. Our offense is a good place. We need to capitalize but that will happen.”

Highly-touted freshman Popper didn’t waste any time capitalizing on her opportunities.

“Sammy was great; she is a goal scorer,” said Tagliente. “If we played her higher on the field, I think she would probably get more goals than maybe what she will get this season. She is playing a midfield striker for us. She had two great finishes on those goals against UNC. She had a fantastic opening weekend for herself, especially being a freshman playing in those games.”

Sophomore Hannah Davey and junior Julianna Tornetta also sparked the Tiger attack over the weekend.

“Hannah was steady the whole game against UNC, generating a lot of chances,” said Tagliente of Davey, who had a goal and an assist in the win over Wake. “Julianna played well. She is not in the statistical boxes in any way but she was very dangerous. She created a lot of attack for us as well.”

Along the back line, sophomore standout Gabby Andretta was a calming force. “Gabby played well in the Wake game,” said Tagliente.

“She shifted from outside back to playing center back the whole game and was phenomenal. She had a lot of great tackles in regulation and really saving tackles in overtime. For as much as we had chaos in the back, she was the most consistent Steady Eddie that we had back there.”

Princeton will need some steady play to come up with wins as it hosts No. 20 Albany (1-2) on September 13 and No. 17 Penn State (0-3) on September 15.

“Albany is a tough team to play in that they are very physical; it is not as high paced as the games we played this weekend,” said Tagliente.

“It will be a vastly different paced game for us, they play more direct than the teams we are used to. It is going to be really night and day with the pace of the game against Penn State. They are very athletic, very fast, and they want to play very fast. We are going to have to flip the switch between the games in terms of how we play and how we prepare. It is good for us to have the variety. Albany is a tournament team from last year and so is Penn State; it is great to have them on the schedule.”