February 26, 2020

Reilly Making Impact as Senior Co-Captain, Helping PU Women’s Lax Produce 1-1 Start

LIFE OF REILLY: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Katie Reilly heads up the field last Saturday as ninth-ranked Princeton hosted No. 8 Virginia. Senior attacker Reilly contributed an assist in a losing cause as the Tigers fell 12-10 to the Cavaliers. Princeton, now 1-1, plays at Villanova on February 26 and then opens Ivy League play with a game at Columbia on February 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Katie Reilly is especially motivated to make the most of her final season with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

The senior attacker is one of the Tiger captains along with classmates Annie Cory and Tess D’Orsi and has started the first two games of the year after appearing in just 13 total games in her first three seasons since coming from Huntingdon, N.Y., where she was a three-sport star, playing soccer and basketball in addition to lacrosse.

“Obviously it stinks a little bit to come and have to watch and learn, but I think that’s exactly what you do,” said Reilly. “You watch and learn. The difference between high school and college, there’s a really big difference in tempo, intensity, all this. For most programs, unless you’re phenomenal, you’re not just going to walk in and displace anybody. Everybody is really good. I think it’s really valuable to see the other perspective and be on the sideline. It teaches you that you have to work hard if you want to get something, it’s not just going to come to you. It gives you a different perspective and I think that’s helpful in being a leader and being a player in general.”

The manner in which Reilly handled not playing much is one of the reasons that she is a captain this year as she made the effort to improve each year and put herself in position to start this year, serving as an example to her younger teammates.

“I just really try to emphasize putting in extra work,” said Reilly.

“You can do it if you put your mind to it. Every day you have to give a little more effort because practice is not enough for your own individual game. Just being positive when you’re not in the game. Your leadership really shows through when you’re in a position that you don’t want to be in so it’s important to be supportive and positive as a teammate even if you don’t have the greatest role on the field.”

Reilly has jumped at her chance to play more. She had more points after the first game of the year – she had a goal and three assists in a 16-14 win over Temple on February 15 – than she had in her entire career. She added another point on an assist as the No. 9 Tigers dropped to 1-1 with a 12-10 loss to unbeaten No. 8 Virginia last Saturday.

“After the seniors graduated last year, we knew there were going to be some spots opening up, so the fall was pretty competitive amongst all positions seeing who would step up to the bigger roles,” Reilly said.

“As a captain, I sort of figured I’d have a bigger role, but I didn’t know how everything would shake out. After the spots opened up, someone had to fill them.”

Junior Kyla Sears led the attack against Virginia with three goals, freshman Kari Buonnano had two goals and two assists and six draw controls, fellow freshman Grace Tauckus had two goals, and Kate Mulham had a goal and two assists. Princeton had an 8-7 halftime lead before going cold in the second half.

“I think they definitely stepped up defensively,” said Reilly of the Cavaliers, who improved to 4-0.

“Our offense just didn’t play to our best potential. I don’t think it had as much to do with their defense as our attack not being as organized and communicative as we possibly could have been and running our plays like we know how, we just got a little disorganized and a little bit dysfunctional, but that’s part of our growing as the team figures out how to pull out little things and how to reorganize.”

Reilly has filled in at low attack for an offense that is still coming together as Princeton heads into a five-game road swing. The Tigers were scheduled to play at Villanova on February 26 after before opening Ivy League play with a game at Columbia on February 29 as they look for more consistency from their attack.

“That’s kind of the newest unit,” said Reilly. “Kyla is doing such a good job leading. She’s so smart and knows so much about lacrosse. Tess is leading us too. She just got surgery, so we’re waiting for her return. Other than that, it’s kind of coming together. Each attacker has their own strength. Kate Mulham is such a great dodger. Grace Tauckus, a freshman, is such a powerful and consistent player that you have to have her on the field. We’ve been doing well, but obviously we have room to grow. Hopefully we can keep progressing.”

The Tigers knew coming into the season that they would have less experienced players on the attack. They got less experienced when D’Orsi, their leading returning goal scorer, suffered a lower leg injury just before the season opener.

“Most kids on the field are getting their first real playing time,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.

“We’re a really young offensive unit with no experience or one year of experience. That’s showing up a little bit. We know we’re going to get better and keep improving, so we’re optimistic and we’re just going to keep working hard and try to get better every day. We definitely played better in the Virginia game than the first time out. I think our offense played a really good first half and our defense played a really good second half especially, so if we can put that together for a full game, both units, we’ll be fine.”

No timeline has been announced for the return of D’Orsi, whose return would benefit the attack. “We do anticipate getting Tess back at some point,” said Sailer.

D’Orsi’s absence means other players are being asked to raise their level of play even more. Reilly is trying to do her part while leading a young group that surrounds her.

“We always talk about putting extra work in,” said Reilly. “Myself and all my teammates have put in a lot of extra time. We put in hard work and hopefully something good comes out.”

While Princeton did not shoot as well as it did against Temple, it did see marked improvement in one weakness from its season opener. Temple held a 19-13 advantage in draw controls. The Tigers flipped that around against Virginia to own a 13-9 edge on the draw control.

“We were really pleased with how the draws went,” said Sailer.

“That was an issue for us the week before, but we had Grace Tauckus taking some of the draws for us this week and that seemed to go well. That was a big improvement from our performance at Temple on the draw circle, which was encouraging. We made some adjustments and had a couple different kids on the circle at different times. Grace and Kari Buonnano have been doing phenomenally well as freshmen, coming in and playing poised and heads up and just really tough. They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

After relying heavily on dodging to create scoring opportunities the last few years, Princeton is looking for more ball movement, cutting and working to set each other up to create goals. Trying to improve those areas was one of the biggest takeaways from the loss to Virginia.

“For the offense, I think we’re trying to take how to play second halves better, creating plays a little bit better,” said Reilly.

“I think we really struggled creating opportunities in the second half. Our main focus will be when the defense tightens up, how can we create those opportunities and work as a team and get open as a team.”

Reilly continues to work at improving her own game while trying to lead others. She has helped to foster a positive environment around the team.

“What Katie really brings to the team is that energy and she brings that fire and passion,” said Sailer.

“She makes it fun for the kids to come to practice every day. She’s got a big heart and loves her team and loves to play. She’s still learning and growing on the field. To have someone that the kids really look up to as a leader and see the progress that she’s made for us since freshman year so now she’s at the point where she’s in a starting role, that’s a credit to her. She’s put a lot of work in, a lot of time in to make herself better. She’s been just phenomenal for leadership and culture and team spirit.”

Having proven that she can help the Tigers on and off the field. Reilly was thrilled to take on a leadership role as much as she was to play more this season.

“It’s meant the world to me,” said Reilly. “The players and coaches vote. It’s an honor. This team especially has been so fun to be a part of and we’re so close and our team culture has been amazing. Everyone loves each other so it’s really been pretty easy with your best friends being on the team.”

It’s a strong support system for the Tigers as they improve together. They have just two games under them with a new look lineup that is gaining experience each chance it gets.

“I think we’ve learned that we have to get better at executing the details of the game — whether that’s offensively or defensively,” said Sailer.

“I think we have to communicate more on the field and all over the field. And we have to read plays better at both ends of the field. We have to read our spacing, and we have to work on our decision making offensively, and defensively we have to see the ball better. We have to continue to grow.”

Princeton will face the additional challenge of being on the road for the next three weeks with its next home game not coming until March 24 when the Tigers host Florida.

“The Ivy League has gotten really good,” said Reilly. “We have a lot of away games in a row there, so we’re trying to build our team up and be the best team we possibly can be. If we do that, we should be OK against the Ivy teams. We do have a lot of individual talent and the key is putting all that talent together and making an incredible team.”