POWERBALL: Princeton University field hockey star Teresa Benvenuti powers the ball down the field in a game last season. Junior midfielder Benvenuti, a two-time first-team All-Ivy League performer, provides good punch in the midfield for the Tigers. No. 7 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at fourth-ranked Duke on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
For the Princeton University field hockey team, its daily theme comes down to one word — work.
The Tigers are working on playing faster, being better off the ball all over the field, playing more directly on offense, touching every ball on defense, and being more physical, among other things.
To monitor the players’ work rate, Princeton is employing state-of-the art Firstbeat technology, a software tool providing an advanced analysis of beat-by-beat heart rate data and oxygen capacity for each player as she goes through practice.
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn likes the way her players have embraced the heavy workload.
“I am most pleased with how unified the team is,” said Holmes-Winn, who guided the Tigers to a 14-5 record in 2013 with an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals and the program’s 19th Ivy league title in the last 20 years.
“I give so much credit to the seniors, they worked this spring to see what kind of leaders they were going to be. They are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. You see the energy in a strong way. They are setting the tone and it has transferred to the rest of the team and the freshmen are blending in. We are seeing a level of work.”
Even though Princeton is ranked No. 7 in the Monto/NFHCA preseason poll, the focus is squarely on daily improvement rather than where the Tigers stand nationally.
“I think for us it is not to prove something but to play our best hockey and maximize the group’s potential,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We focus on daily goals in a powerful way, looking to achieve our phase one goals right now. It is all about action.”
The Tigers should get plenty of goals from its group of strikers which includes senior and All-Ivy performer Allison Evans (11 goals and 6 assists in 2013), sophomore Cat Caro (9 goals, 4 assists) and junior Maddie Copeland (5 goals, 1 assist).
“Evans is so feisty, she plays with a chip on her shoulder even though she doesn’t really have one,” said Holmes-Winn.
“She has such energy. She’s utterly effective inside the attacking third. She has quick hands and makes great decisions in there. Cat Caro is so strong and physical but she plays with a beautiful touch on the ball. We are looking for Maddie to provide leadership on the front line.”
Two freshmen, Lexi Quirk and Rachel Park, could provide a spark up front.
“Lexi Quirk is so fit, she can literally run all day,” said Holmes-Winn. “She can chase and run and is a great finisher. Rachel Park has a good physiology and great touch on the ball.”
Junior star Teresa Benvenuti (8 goals, 8 assists), a two-time first-team All-Ivy performer, provides good punch in the midfield.
“Teresa is so, so powerful and her decision-making has improved every year,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We want her to overlap in the front third. She is also a phenomenal defender. She can intercept and tackle. She sets a tone; she has that aggressive mentality.”
Holmes-Winn is looking for senior Sydney Kirby (2 goals, 4 assists) to display a special work ethic in the middle of the field.
“Kirby has such an engine, she ran 2.4 miles in a 15-minute block in practice the other day and the next closest player was at 1.3 miles,” said Holmes-Winn of Kirby, an honorable mention All-Ivy choice last year.
“Her work rate is in the ball park of Katie Reinprecht ’13, she is off the charts. It has been a challenge to keep Sydney healthy. If she is, she will do some serious damage. I am excited to see her evolve this fall.”
The Tigers have several other players who will get work in the midfield. “We also have Ryan McCarthy, Cassidy Arner (2 goals), Ellen Dobrijevic, and Debi-Michelle Jantzen in the midfield,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We have a nice complement of players in the midfield, they can come in and provide support. We are going to need a lot of legs this year.”
Buoyed by the support of star defender and Olympian Julia Reinprecht ’14, Annabeth Donovan (1 goal, 4 assists) enjoyed a superb debut campaign last year, earning first-team All-Ivy honors and being named the league’s Co-Rookie of the Year.
“Donovan is even better than last year, she has refined her ball skills and has much more control,” asserted Holmes-Winn, who will also be using junior Kate Ferrara, senior Colleen Boyce, junior Saskia deQuant, and freshman Sarah Brennan, a former Princeton Day School standout, on defense.
“She has a great level of understanding of that we want to do. Having AB being able to learn from Jules was so crucial. She can come in and play center half, she has big shoes to fill. When Jules got hurt against Penn State in the NCAA tournament, she had to step in and play center half and did a great job; that is part of Julia’s legacy. AB has confidence and brings leadership, she is really a commander out there.”
Holmes-Winn is seeing some commanding efforts from her two goalies, junior Anya Gersoff (a 1.81 goals against average in 13 starts last year) and senior Julia Boyle (4.33 goals against average in two appearances).
“We are lucky to have two of the best goalies in the country, both of them have looked pretty exceptional in preseason,” said Holmes-Winn.
“Our goalie coach, David Williamson, has been working with them. They have really benefitted from him. Anya has been exceptional, she played a lot this summer and it shows. We will look at each week and see who we are playing.”
As usual, Princeton faces a challenging first week of the season, playing at No. 4 Duke on September 5, at No. 6 Virginia on September 7, and at No. 8 Penn State on September 12.
“The beginning of the season is a crap shoot, you play a deep rotation and get players some time to see what you have,” said Holmes-Winn, who guided the Tigers to the 2012 NCAA crown.
“There are a lot of internal questions and we are trying to glean answers. It is a great way to find out who you are. We want to play teams with a level of talent and pace who will be standing at the end. You get used to playing against your own players in practice, it is good to go against other players. All three opponents have different styles and philosophies, different strengths and weaknesses.”
Princeton’s philosophy centers on being strong with the ball and working hard all over the field.
“For us, it is focusing on being more comfortable on the ball,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We want confidence, poise, and more directness in the attacking third. On defense, we want to show poise and physicality and try to get a touch on every single ball.”