Annabeth Donovan was initially looking to buck the family trend when she started looking at college options.
Although her grandfather, both parents, and two older sisters are Princeton University alums, Donovan wanted to go elsewhere.
“When I was little I looked forward to going to Princeton but when I was actually looking at colleges, I said I was never coming here because of my sisters,” said Donovan.
But the school’s excellence in field hockey and academics swayed Donovan to follow in family tradition.
“Once you know Princeton, it is hard to turn it down, especially in the field hockey aspect because it is one of the best programs,” said Donovan, a native of Unionville, Pa. “It is such a good school.”
Joining the field hockey program last fall, Donovan got a good education, soaking up lessons from senior star Julia Reinprecht on the way to making first-team All-Ivy League and being named the league’s Co-Rookie of the Year.
“The biggest things I learned from her is her sense of leadership and her composure on the field and the way she was able to motivate and lead the team,” said Donovan, whose sisters, Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13, also starred for the Tiger field hockey program.
“I think she really taught me a lot about playing in that central position. I learned a lot, just how to organize and control a game.”
As a sophomore, Donovan is looking to apply what she learned from Reinprecht.
“It is definitely more calm but it is a new team and we are figuring out our new dynamics,” said Donovan. “There is still a lot of things that we have to work out, it is early in the season.”
Princeton is definitely a work in progress as it fell 1-0 in overtime to Bucknell last Sunday to drop to 0-4.
“I think we definitely improved, we have been working on our mentality during practice and I think it is starting to show,” said Donovan, reflecting on the loss which came two days after a 5-2 defeat to No. 8 Penn State.
“We are just trying to be tougher, trying to stay on marks, recovering back into lines and having the feeling of urgency. I think we showed that today, which is a big improvement.”
Noting that Princeton faced nationally ranked Duke, Virginia, and Penn State in its first three contests this fall, Donovan said that experience has toughened up the squad.
“We are lucky enough to play three top-10 teams early in the season and those top 10 teams are really going to exploit our weaknesses and show us what we have to work on,” said Donovan.
“So while yes it is hard going in and playing such highly ranked teams and maybe not winning, we learn exactly what we need to do because they capitalize on every mental breakdown or tactical error that we make. It just helps improve and recognize what we need to work on.”
Donovan acknowledges that the Tigers need to sharpen up their finishing around the goal.
“We have lots of freshmen and young players filling in there so right now it is just working on that dynamic,” said Donovan.
“Up front, especially, learning how players move and where they go is a big aspect so it is working on that chemistry and that will come in games. We are getting it up there, we are getting chances. It is just learning how each other plays.”
Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn concurred, frustrated by her team’s failure to score on a day when it outshot Bucknell 10-7 and built a 5-2 edge in penalty corners.
“We had a lot of pretty good opportunities but you have to find a way to finish,” said Holmes-Winn. “I know that sounds simple but when you have opportunities you have to find a way to put them into the net.”
In assessing the loss, Holmes-Winn said her team has to find a way to maintain possession.
“We gave the ball up a ton in our midfield and that is something we just have to fix,” said Holmes-Winn.
“It is more mental errors than really a lot of physical stuff. We just have to get into a groove and we haven’t found that groove yet.”
In the view of Holmes-Winn, Donovan has found a groove along the back line.
“She has energy and she is consistent,” said Holmes-Winn. “She is mentally very strong and sharp. It just has to be a balance between that energy and that composure. I really think she has that balance right, just having that role model in Julia was really key. We need other players stepping up and providing a little more direction.”
Princeton also needs to play more directly. “We have to attack the game mentally,” said Holmes-Winn.
“When, for example, we are defending and the ball hits their foot we know it’s our free hit, get on the ball instead of wondering whose free hit is it. Mentally, we are not engaged enough in the moment and understanding how we can manipulate the moment to our advantage.”
While Princeton, which won its 19th Ivy League title in the last 20 years last season on the way to the NCAA quarterfinals, is not happy with its 0-4 start, Holmes-Winn is far from discouraged about the Tigers’ prospects.
“It is a long season and we just have to find a way to win the mini-moments throughout the match and capitalize in the form of a finish,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team opens its Ivy campaign by hosting Dartmouth on September 20 and then plays at American University a day later.
“We certainly have the capability, we absolutely do. I think the belief is there; it is just on game day being able to show what we are capable of.”
Donovan, for her part, believes the Tigers are capable of doing some big things this fall.
“We have definitely been improving every game, slowly but surely,” maintained Donovan. “It is not where you start, it is where you finish.”