October 9, 2019

Following in Footsteps of Older Sisters, Donovan Making Impact for PU Field Hockey

BREAKING THROUGH: Princeton University field hockey player Claire Donovan gets ready to hit the ball in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore Donovan notched the first two goals of her college career, helping Princeton rally to a 4-3 win over Yale in overtime. The Tigers, who overcame a 4-1 deficit to defeat No. 2 Duke 5-4 in overtime last Sunday to improve to 7-4, host Columbia on October 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Claire Donovan started going to Princeton University field hockey games when she was in elementary school.

With older sisters Kaitlin ’10, Amy ’13, and Annabeth ’19 having all starred for the Tigers, Donovan has been around the program for a long time.

When Donovan emerged as a field hockey standout in her own right for Unionville High (Pa.) a few years ago, she toyed with the idea of playing somewhere else in college but ended up following in the footsteps of her sisters and came to Princeton.

“I wanted to be the black sheep, I wanted to go somewhere else,” said a grinning Donovan.

“But then as I got older, when we would visit other schools, I would think, oh, but it doesn’t have this, something that Princeton had.”

Joining the Tiger program in 2018, Donovan assumed a reserve role, coming off the bench to make six appearances in her debut campaign.

This fall, Donovan has been seeing more action and last Friday, produced a breakthrough performance as Princeton hosted Yale.

With the Tigers trailing 2-0 in the second quarter, Donovan scored the first goal of her college career to draw Princeton within one heading into halftime.

Donovan didn’t wait long to notch her second goal, scoring with 3:00 remaining in the third quarter as Princeton forged ahead 3-2.

After Yale tied the game with a goal midway through the fourth quarter to force overtime, the Tigers pulled out a 4-3 win on a goal by Ali McCarthy with 3:13 left in the first extra period. 

Showing their resilience, the Tigers were not fazed as they dug out of the early hole against the Bulldogs.

“We know it is not the end of the game and we know we still have a lot of time,” said Donovan.

“When we come together, we know that we are about to go out with everything that we have. Even though it is only in the second quarter, we just have to not fall back on our heels.”

Donovan was on her toes for her first college tally. “It was a drag from Autumn [Brown] but it wasn’t actually supposed to go to me,” said Donovan.

“Going into the circle, I just put my stick down to fake out the defenders almost. I saw it coming to me so I reached forward and tapped it in.”

On her second score, Donovan fired away. “I saw a wide open shot, Emma [Street] just picked the ball off from the defender and it was just me and the goalie,” said Donovan.

“I just had to trust my instincts because I knew that is what my teammates would want me to do. When I don’t let my head get in the way, I am able to just hit it.”

Donovan is proud of the way the Tigers have kept their heads over the years when dealing with adversity.

“We are able to re-set to zero in hard times and come out as if it is a new game because we can dominate many teams,” said Donovan.

“Every year, watching Princeton, we change so much throughout the season. Every year at the beginning, it is a little rough but we are a whole new team by the end of the season.”

Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente implored her team to re-set and just play its game as it looked to overcome the early deficit against Yale.

“The directive was if we are going to focus on winning and losing, this is going to be a long battle,” said Tagliente.

“You just need to relax and focus on the game at hand and the opportunities are going to come, so catch your breath. I knew we would get opportunities, we would get shots, we would get corners.”

Having already been involved in 10 one-goal games this year, Princeton is learning to stick to basics in crunch time.

“We overthink things at times in the circle against teams like this where we have almost 40 shots and not a lot of goals,” said Tagliente, whose squad overcame a 4-1 deficit to defeat No. 2 Duke 5-4 in overtime last Sunday to improve to 7-4 and hosts Columbia on October 12. “It is just too much on the ball.”

Tagliente views Donovan as a player who can excel in the circle. “Claire has been playing great in practice, we haven’t given her a lot of opportunity,” said Tagliente, whose squad is now ranked seventh nationally.

“She is simple. On the third goal today, you saw it was just sitting there and she smashed it and it went in. We have been seeing that a lot and seeing if we could give her some opportunities and she took advantage of that today.”

Donovan, for her part, is thrilled to be getting an opportunity to shine.

“I was tiny when I started coming to Princeton games, I just can’t believe I am on the field right now,” said Donovan.

“I have watched all of these older people play my whole life and now I am actually on the field where I have watched all those games. It is awesome. I am so happy to be finally contributing and helping my teammates because they have helped me.”