While Kristen Holmes-Winn is never happy when her Princeton University field hockey team loses a game, she saw plenty of positives when the third-ranked Tigers fell 2-0 to No. 2 Syracuse last Sunday.
“By design we had a game yesterday and a game today,” said Tiger head coach Holmes-Winn, whose club had dismantled Yale 8-0 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in Ivy League play.
“We wanted to play back-to-back to physiologically have that experience. I think we held up physically quite well. I thought our first half today was really good just in terms of how we moved the ball. The finishing stuff will come. There were a lot of really good things from this match that we will take away.”
The skilled teams gave the fans on hand at Bedford Field a demonstration of superb ball movement as the teams generated end-to end-rushes all afternoon. The game was knotted 0-0 at half. Syracuse broke through with a tally on a penalty corner 20 minutes into the second half and then added an insurance goal on a fast break with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.
“We knew that Syracuse is a great defensive team and really good on the counterattack and that is exactly what got us,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team fell to 7-1 overall with the loss while Syracuse improved to 9-0.
“They have the ability to really double the ball well and they broke out of their situations and were very effective.”
In the view of Holmes-Winn, it was the Orange’s defensive prowess that made the difference in the contest.
“Their ability to get numbers around the ball inside our attacking third and not foul was really the difference,” said Holmes-Winn.
“It is one thing to defend but to be able to defend and not give anything away is a challenge and they did that really, really well.”
Tasting defeat for the first time of the season stung but Holmes-Winn viewed the result in the context of the bigger picture.
“I don’t really care a whole lot about that,” said Holmes-Winn, referring to Tigers losing their chance for a perfect season.
“We just have to keep tacking away at the areas where we are deficient. That is part of playing great teams, they will challenge your structure and your concentration. They show you individually where the weaknesses are and Syracuse did a great job of that.”
The Tigers showed some fight as senior star Kat Sharkey fired blasts on two consecutive penalty corners 25 minutes into the second half with the Tigers trailing 1-0 at that point.
“That’s how this game is, the opportunities are there,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team held a 6-5 edge in penalty corners while getting outshot 16-10.
“The stats weren’t really far off. We were really pushing there at the end so we were exposed. We were playing pretty aggressively which was a result of that second goal and us stretching out our shape a little bit.”
For Holmes-Winn, the main lessons to draw from the defeat center on being more aggressive on finishing and stretching out opposing defenses.
“The passing combinations through our midfield was just awesome; once we got into the final third, they did a great job of getting players around the ball,” said Holmes-Winn, citing the play of the Reinprecht sisters, senior Katie and junior Julia.
“It was never a situation where we were one-on-one. We need to look a little bit where those numbers are coming from and figure how to stretch those zones out of it.”
With Princeton on track for its eighth straight Ivy League title and 18th in the last 19 years, Holmes-Winn is hoping that the experience gained from battling Syracuse will help the Tigers as they pursue their goal of a first national title.
“You have to be perfect in the league, there is no doubt about that, but when it comes to these non-conference games, the point is to be challenged,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team plays at Columbia (6-2 overall, 2-0 Ivy) on September 28 before hosting fourth-ranked Maryland (7-1) on October 2.
“It is always great to win but it is not my main concern right now. If we win and play bad hockey, I am not going to be happy either.”