Having Been Sidelined as a Junior Due to Injury, Cory Thrived in Final Season for PU Women’s Lax
CORY STORY: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Annie Cory heads up the field in a game this spring. Senior midfielder and tri-captain Cory tallied four goals and picked up eight ground balls to help Princeton go 3-2 overall and 1-0 Ivy League before its season was canceled in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Annie Cory is putting the best spin she can on the cancellation of the Princeton University women’s lacrosse 2020 season.
It’s the second straight spring that the Tiger senior midfielder has had to deal with misfortune.
“For me personally, last year I wasn’t on the field and I think I experienced the greatest growth — maybe not as a lacrosse player — but as a person and as a leader even when I wasn’t on the field,” said Cory.
“That’s the mentality that I’m trying to bring to this. I can’t be on the field, but how can I use this time period to experience growth as a person, as a leader, as a teammate? Although it’s not ideal, and I think everyone would agree, whether it’s a high school sports player or a professional sports player, and all the college athletes, we’d much rather be on the field growing in that way, but if we can’t do that we have to figure out some other ways to be productive and be positive about this time. That’s the approach I’ve taken.”
Cory tore her ACL one week into preseason as Princeton was preparing for its first scrimmage. She did not play in a single scrimmage or game in 2019, but showed her true colors in a tough time.
“The thing I loved about Annie is regardless of whether she was on field or during the time she was injured and couldn’t play, she was all in,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.
“She was like another coach out there. She was constantly giving pointers and cheering people on. She set the standard for how an injured kid should behave and the kind of contributions you can make when you lose a season due to injury. The team gained so much respect for how she handled herself junior year, and that’s really why she was voted captain. They knew what a leader she was.”
There was still some question of when Cory would be on the field again right up to the start of preseason as she did not play the entire fall, but she was back for preseason and in the starting lineup for Princeton’s season opener on February 15 as the Tigers edged Temple 16-14.
“I was lucky enough to be back for February 1, the start of our season,” said Cory. “It was not much before that that I had really started to play full contact lacrosse and get back in there. I was very excited to be back for the full season.”
In preparing for game action, Cory kept up with her stickwork and was running so her cardio conditioning was good. While things were still challenging despite that preparation, she relished being back in the fray.
“I was brought so much joy just from being out there,” said Cory. “It didn’t matter how much it hurt physically, I was out there and having fun. It didn’t matter how out of shape or slow I felt because I was just happy to be playing lacrosse.”
Making the most of her return to competition, Cory jumped right back into contributing on the field. She started four of the five games played, had four goals, eight ground balls and four caused turnovers. She also continued to lead as a captain.
“She had done a great job this year as a senior becoming a really positive force for us,” said Sailer.
“She’s always led by example in terms of how hard she competes and her discipline and her work ethic. Over her junior year when she was injured, she really added that piece of vocal leadership to her game.”
The leadership exuded by Cory helped bring along a Princeton team that featured a blend of experience with a lot of new faces on the field. The Tigers were 3-2 with their only losses coming to top-15 teams, No. 8 Virginia (12-10 on February 22), and No. 11 Stony Brook (18-12 on March 8) and were finding their new roles and chemistry when the season was canceled first by the Ivy League and subsequently by the NCAA.
“It’s definitely devastating, especially because we had so much promise,” said Cory of the Tigers who would have been hoping to make a return trip to the NCAA quarterfinals this coming weekend if the season had continued as scheduled.
“Our best lacrosse was in front of us. I felt that about every Princeton team I’ve been on for the past four years is that we get better and better each and every week. We really are playing our best lacrosse and firing on all cylinders come May, come tournament time when it matters the most. To see that cut short, is definitely devastating and so sad.”
Princeton was on the verge of returning one of its top players. Tess D’Orsi, a senior attacker, who had suffered a lower body injury two days before the season opener, an early obstacle for the developing team. She did not play in any of the five games, but the Tigers responded by filling her spot and pushing forward.
“That was really tough for everyone,” said Sailer. “She’s a great tandem with Kyla [Sears], but Tess had been performing so well as our on-field leader the whole year. We were going to use her at center draw. She was doing awesome on the ride. And she’s such a big scoring and play-making threat for us. That was really tough. All of a sudden, our offense took on a different look. With her being a lefty too, and where you can put her in different offenses and against zones to open up her left hand, that’s something we lost right away. We lost our center a little bit on offense. But we have some tough kids, some gritty kids. Other kids started to emerge.”
When the season ended, Sears paced the Tigers in most offensive categories. The junior attacker had 20 goals and nine assists, nine draw controls, 10 ground balls, and five caused turnovers.
“Kyla picked up right where she left off,” said Sailer. “In the Stony Brook game, she really showed what fight she has and what a competitor that she is. We got off to a horrendous start, and she just said, this is changing. She started winning draws and making plays and scoring at the other end. Her play and her grit really raised the team up. We kind of jumped on her back and started to play better. She had tremendous numbers through those first five games.”
Freshmen Kari Buonanno and Grace Tauckus responded well to being given big roles. Buonanno had 18 points and a team-high 14 draw controls on the way to earning Inside Lacrosse All-Freshman national honors while Tauckus had 17 points and nine draw controls.
“A lot of younger players had to step up,” said Cory. “People found themselves in roles they hadn’t played previously. That was something we had to deal with from the beginning. Tess got hurt right before the first game. We said, ‘all we need is what’s here in the room, so let’s figure it out with what we have.’”
Senior Katie Reilly was also emerging as a major contributor, tallying 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) and tying Sears for the team lead in assists.
“It was her first year as a full-time starter and co-captain, and she really has been raising her game,” said Sailer.
“It’s kids like that that I feel the most for because she didn’t play much at all in her first two years and she played more last year, but this was her year. She had worked so hard for it, and was doing so well feeding and dodging. It’s just really tough to see a kid like that have this year cut short.”
Others were progressing well. Sophomore Kate Mulham had six goals after missing all of last year due to injury, sophomore Maria Pansini, sophomore Gaby Hamburger, and junior Jordan Marcus were finding important offensive roles, and sophomore Shea Smith was making a case for being a reliable defender. And then the season ended.
“What I saw in those first five games was people starting to gel and mesh together and play as a team,” said Cory.
“We had quite a young roster this year so saw a lot of young girls starting to step up and find their own and feel confident in those roles. Even players that had played together before were beginning to work together in a different setting on a different team and really continuing to use that team chemistry and team culture that we had worked so hard to build the offseason, we were starting to see that develop on the field. That was really promising and what was really going to carry us so far in the rest of the season.”
The shock of the cancellation stung more because it came on the same day that D’Orsi was cleared to return to the field.
“Tess had been doing some things in practice, non-contact things and just moving so well,” said Sailer. “She was still in a little pain, but she was moving well. We certainly had high hopes that she would have a strong finish to the season.”
In the wake of the cancellation, Princeton seniors had hoped they could get one more season for the Tigers as the NCAA ruled that it would grant eligibility relief to spring sports participants, meaning that seniors could return to their school for next year. The Ivy League, though, said it would not allow spring-sport athletes an extra year of eligibility after they graduate. It did leave open the door for schools to allow athletes to withdraw from school and get an extra year as an undergraduate but Princeton decided that wouldn’t allow that process. As a result, Tiger senior athletes’ only route to get one more collegiate season was to enroll at another school as a grad student and play there.
In the meantime, the Princeton players have stayed connected after being sent home to finish school on a virtual basis. They have been communicating frequently and individual they are maintaining their skills and fitness as the seniors ponder their choices for next year.
“We’re just trying to educate them and trying to get them to think about what they really want and what’s most important to them,” said Sailer.
“You have to do what’s right for you and your family. There’s a financial aspect involved too. We’ll see how that all shakes out.”
While Cory was hoping to return to Princeton, she has opted to accept a job offer to work as an investment banking analyst for Morgan Stanley after graduation. True to character, Cory is looking to take positives from her abbreviated senior spring.
“I’m definitely still sad about the season being cut short, not being on campus and not being with my team, but the best we can do is try to find a way to grow from it,” said Cory.