While Cassie Pyle and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team knew they faced a must-win situation when they hosted Dartmouth last Saturday, they didn’t dwell on the big picture.
“We knew we had to win this game; it was a huge game to get into the tournament and just for our team in general,” said senior midfielder Pyle, reflecting on the contest against the No. 7 Big Green which Princeton needed to win to stay alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament.
“We are better than we have been playing so we really wanted to prove that to ourselves. But the one thing that we didn’t want to do was come in thinking that we had to win and all the negative aspects of that. We just wanted to focus on how big of an opportunity this was for us.”
In the early going, Dartmouth seized opportunity, jumping to a 3-1 lead before the game was six minutes old.
“You are a little bit worried but you stick with your game plan,” said Pyle, reflecting on the early deficit.
“We knew that if we stuck to it we would be good and we didn’t get on each other. We didn’t yell at each other; it was a good feeling all the way around.”
Pyle got the Tigers feeling really good, scoring three goals over the next 10 minutes as Princeton went on a 4-1 run to forge ahead 5-4.
“It was the roll we got on; it really pumped us up and got us excited,” said Pyle.
“I think better than ever, we really got excited about the little things that people did. We just fed off that.”
The Tigers took a 7-5 lead into halftime and then took care of things after that, posting a 12-9 win in improving to 7-6 overall and 4-2 Ivy.
No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney.
Pyle liked how Princeton responded Saturday down the stretch as it built on the momentum it seized in the first half.
“Our halftime was getting excited about what we did but really focusing on the fact that they could easily come back,” said Pyle, a 5’4 native of Alexandria, Va. who ended up with a team-high four goals on the day.
“They are a great team, they had such an impressive attack and defense and everything. We didn’t want to let them come back. They did get a few goals in the beginning but we wanted to keep pushing and never let up or get timid.”
With only a handful of games left in her career, Pyle is looking to push hard to the end.
“It is definitely sad; I want to have as many games as I can,” said Pyle, who now has a team-high 36 goals this season and a total of 106 in her superb career.
“You definitely want to end the season stronger than when you started it and I definitely think we have a strong possibility of doing that at the end of the day. If we finish the season strong, I will be so happy.”
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer was happy with the strong performance her team produced in the win over Dartmouth.
“I think it really shows our resilience; we knew our backs were, and will continue to be against the wall,” said Sailer.
“It is clear that we want to get to postseason so you really saw that fight today. In a competitive game, we haven’t really put together goalkeeping, offense, and defense. Today we did that; every single kid stepped up and that is what we needed to beat a very talented Dartmouth team.”
In Sailer’s view, Pyle stepped up in a big way for the Tigers. “Cassie is a competitor too; she did so well,” added Sailer. “She is so quick; she is so hard to defend. She had an awesome day.”
Freshman goalie Annie Woehling had some awesome moments in the win, making nine saves, including several point-blank stops.
“When she is making saves like that, it gives you so much momentum and the team so much confidence,” said Sailer, referring to Woehling, who was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week. “We have got to work on the clears a little bit but I felt she had a great day.”
A pair of freshmen came through on the offensive end as Erin McMunn tallied three goals and two assists while classmate Erin Slifer chipped in two goals and two assists.
“They raised their games, no question,” asserted Sailer, who also got two goals from junior midfielder Charlotte Davis with junior attacker Sam Ellis chipping in one.
“McMunn has always been a feeder but today she comes through with three goals and two assists. She and Slifer played on the same club team so they definitely have that connection. They had some gorgeous goals out there today.”
The Tigers will have to keep making connections in order to beat Penn.
“Penn is an experienced team; they have been in these type of situations a lot of times,” said Sailer.
“They have a great goalie [Emily Leitner]; she is a big kid who takes up a lot of the cage and is really talented. They have got Erin Brennan, who is now a senior. They have players that are able to do some damage, both off the challenge and off the feed. They are always known for their defense.”
In the wake of Princeton’s performance against Dartmouth, Sailer believes her team is up for that challenge.
“If we can play like we played today, I like our chances there,” said Sailer. whose team beat Penn twice last year, prevailing in the regular season and in the Ivy semifinals. “We just gained a ton of confidence and really played smart lacrosse and executed well.”
Pyle, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can execute in a second straight grudge match.
“We are really happy to have these two games at the end because they are such big rivalries; it is so exciting,” said Pyle.
“We are going to try to do the same thing that we did today, not focus on the negative aspects but focus on the opportunities. We need to really ride the momentum from this game and just keep pushing and getting better.”