March 25, 2020

Youthful PU Women’s Lax Showed Growth Before Season Canceled Due to Coronavirus

TOUGH ENDING: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Kyla Sears, right, gets stymied by a defender in a game this spring. Junior star Sears led the 15th-ranked Tigers with 29 points on 20 goals and nine assists as the Tigers got off to a 3-2 start before the season was canceled earlier this month due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Featuring a number of freshmen and sophomores in its lineup, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team experienced some ups and downs in the early stages of the 2020 campaign.

But with Princeton sitting at 3-2 and heading in the right direction, its progress came to a halt when the season was canceled earlier this month due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, it was agonizing to see her young squad not get the chance to keep growing.

“You feel sick to your stomach, you feel so sorry, it is such an abrupt end for the team that is really just getting going,” said Sailer, whose team was ranked 15th nationally in the final Inside Lacrosse media poll.

“We met with them as soon as we could get them all together the first day. Of course that was very emotional, a lot of tears and disbelief; just kids really distraught with all of them looking forward to this season and knowing that they weren’t going to get a chance to continue competing. I think that was the first emotion.”

Although those emotions were strong, Sailer concurred with the reasoning behind the cancellation.
“I totally agree with the decision that was made,” said Sailer.

“It was hard that first day when we were the only Division I conference to cancel. You kind of knew that the dominoes were going to fall the more you read and learned about the situation. It is something that had to happen. It is a very serious situation and as disappointed as we are, we know that this is bigger than us. We have to do our part to help the community.”

Sailer feels particularly sad for her quartet of seniors — Tess D’Orsi, Annie Cory, Maddie Staczek, and Katie Reilly.

“You are sorry for your seniors and everything that they have worked for,” said Sailer.

“It is their last year, their last season, and their chance to go for their fourth straight Ivy championship, to have their Senior Day, turn in their theses, jump into the fountain, and do all of things in a senior spring. I felt tremendously sad for them.”

While the program’s Class of 2020 won’t get to savor those spring traditions, they are leaving a special legacy.

“They were just an amazing group of young women; they came in with their No. 1 goal to really create a family-oriented culture on the team and to work on that across all grades and classes,” said Sailer.

“As bonded as Princeton teams have been in the past, I think that this group had something special and unique. Although we had some bumps early, we were growing because we were so, so young. We had played the full year without Tess, who had just been cleared [from injury] when we got the news the season was canceled.”

The program’s youth movement figures to pay dividends down the road as the roster this spring included nine freshmen and nine sophomores.

“We are definitely excited about the group we have coming back,” added Sailer. “There are a lot of young kids who got experience, whether that was in practice or game time. They are still going to be young next year and we have a great class coming in as well. It is exciting to think that we are going to continue to build that depth in our program over time. We feel like we do have a lot of young talent and the players who were juniors this year are a very strong group.”

Although Princeton didn’t produce its strongest performance in what turned out to be its season finale as it fell 18-12 at No. 5 Stony Brook on March 8, digging a 7-0 hole in the early stages of the contest, Sailer sees positives coming out of that setback.

“We are all leaving after the Stony Brook game knowing that we really didn’t play our best and let them take that game to us even though we fought until the end,” said Sailer.

“That first seven minutes of the game are going to sting, they are going to sit with us. In some ways that is a good thing, it is a motivator for us to work and not take anything for granted and try to use the time away really productively in terms of lacrosse.”

Sailer is confident that her players will be productive as they work from home. “They are athletes, they know how to stay fit,” said Sailer. “We want them to get stronger. That is one message we are sending them home with. We have to see how this all plays out but continuing to stay fit, strong, and work on their skills while they are away at home, that is pretty much a given. We do plan to stay in good touch with them and they will stay in good touch with each other, whether we are sending them videos to watch or giving them ideas of things they can be working on. We want to keep that connections as best we can.”

As for Sailer, she plans to use the downtime to go outside the box in preparing for next season. “It is perplexing, coaching is a 24/7, 365-day job; you have a couple of weeks in the summer, a couple of weeks around the holidays but other than that, it is draining,” said Sailer. “It is a grind. This might give us all time for a little bit of a pause, more reflection, and to think about new ideas you have for your program.”