Ryan McCarthy had the sense that she would be a good fit for the Princeton University field hockey program.
“I am the third Oak Knoll player in the past few years to play here,” said McCarthy, a resident of Madison, N.J.
“There was Michelle Cesan and now there is Teresa Benvenuti. I just knew that this was the school for me, visiting here, meeting the team and the coaches, it is a special place.”
Those previous Oak Knoll standouts have made a big impact for the Tigers. Cesan, a four-time All-American, helped Princeton win the 2012 NCAA title and graduated in 2014 with 44 goals. Benvenuti, currently a star junior midfielder, has earned All-Ivy League honors in her first two seasons for the Tigers.
McCarthy is following in those footsteps, emerging as a bright spot as Princeton has struggled in the early going.
Last Saturday, striker McCarthy scored two goals to help Princeton top Brown 4-0 and improve to 4-9 overall and 3-1 Ivy.
Coming off of an 8-1 loss to No. 2 Maryland on October 15, McCarthy and the Tigers were determined to get back on the right track against Brown.
“We were fired up, Kristen told us to treat this like it is the most important game of the season,” said McCarthy. “All the Ivy games are important to us. We need to get that good record to win the title.”
The Tigers came out fired up against Brown as Allison Evans scored with 27:19 left in the first half and then McCarthy added a second tally 25 minutes later.
“Getting those two goals really pumped us up and got us fired up for the second half,” said McCarthy.
In reflecting on her tally, McCarthy said it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“It was a lot of commotion in the circle,” said McCarthy. “My teammates did all the work and I tapped it in.”
Princeton did some good work in the second half, pulling away from the Bears as McCarthy scored at the 36:17 mark and Evans scored four minutes later.
“We sort of calmed down and were composed for the second half,” said McCarthy. “We were excited to get out there and finish it off.”
On her second goal, McCarthy was excited to take advantage of another good feed. “It was a great pass from Sydney and I just finished it,” said McCarthy.
With 13 games under her belt in her college career, McCarthy is calming down on the field.
“I think getting used to the transition and the speed was a challenge,” said McCarthy, who now has five goals, tied with senior Sydney Kirby for the second-most on the team. “The team really helped all the freshmen get into it and get excited.”
Princeton University head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn was excited to see her team’s hard work pay off against Brown.
“They have been training really well,” said Holmes-Winn. “They need to trust that and bring the same level of intensity that they exhibit in the training environment and apply that on game day.”
Princeton showed intensity from the start of the game on Saturday. “It was really good,” said Holmes-Winn.
“Brown is a good team, they know how to hang around so we knew that if we had opportunities we had to find ways to capitalize and we did. We had lots of shots.”
Senior star Evans was due to cash in some opportunities, having scored only two goals on the season before Saturday.
“That was so good for her and they were great goals,” said Holmes-Winn.
“I think personally that she needed that. She has been getting some good balls, it has just been one of those things so we have been working on trying to get her the ball in better spots on the field here so she can use her hits.”
McCarthy has been giving Princeton a lot of good things. “Ryan is all over the field,” said Holmes-Winn.
“She looks dangerous, she gets a lot of touches and she creates a lot. She is starting to find ways to combine a little bit more effectively and picking those moments of when do I take it on and when do I create for someone else. She is making better decisions there.”
While the Tigers have dealt with some tough moments this fall, Holmes-Winn believes better days are ahead for her squad.
“We are a good team; we played a lot of really good teams and there were a bunch of overtimes so we are close,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We haven’t been able to do enough to create and have those lucky moments turn in our favor. I tell the girls I don’t believe in luck, it is what we do every single day and the choices that we make.”
With Princeton locked in a four-way tie for first in the Ivies with Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth, the Tigers have a big day coming up this Saturday as they host Harvard (5-5 overall, 2-2 Ivy).
“I think we just have to stay the course and be smarter,” said Holmes-Winn.
“We have looked pretty critically at where we are turning the ball over and how we are turning the ball over and making sure that we are shoring that up.”
McCarthy, for her part, knows that Princeton must stay on the ball if it is going to emerge as the Ivy champion.
“This was a confidence builder for the whole team,” said McCarthy. “We just need to keep up the hard work and keep our confidence going. We have to stay composed in all of the games.”