The chant could be heard throughout one end of Class of 1952 Stadium last Saturday after Princeton University women’s lacrosse team topped Dartmouth.
The Princeton players repeatedly hollered “Ivy Champs, Ivy Champs, Ivy Champs” in their team room after posting a 12-10 win over the Big Green which clinched the Ivy regular season crown.
For senior defender Liz Cutting, the emotional outburst was the culmination of a Senior Day to remember.
“I think we realized how much we have to play for, especially this morning when we watched a video made by all of our teammates with special little things said about each senior; it was so nice,” said Cutting, a 5’7 native of Towson, Md.
“We really decided even from September what we wanted and we weren’t
going to stop until we got that Ivy championship. It is
The victory improved Princeton to 10-4 overall and 6-1 Ivy with the Tigers earning the title and the right to host the upcoming Ivy tourney by virtue of its 9-5 win over Penn, (8-4 overall, 4-1 Ivy) last Wednesday.
“To have this come back to Princeton is super important for us because we have worked so hard to change the culture on our team to one of hard work and determination,” said Cutting. “I think having this really shows our efforts and shows the fruits of our labor.”
After getting off to a 1-3 start this season, Princeton changed the course of its season by heading west and beating USC 14-7 and San Diego State 16-9.
“I think our trip to California over spring break really got it going for us,” said Cutting. “We realized how good we could actually be. We decided we couldn’t stop and we couldn’t regress from that point on. It showed in practice and the way that we worked with each other and the way the coaches held us to a higher standard.”
Having won nine of its last 10 games, the one loss in that stretch, an 8-7 defeat to No. 2 Maryland on April 9, may have been Princeton’s most impressive effort of the spring.
“The Maryland game was a huge game for us; just growing up wise because we do have a few young players,” said Cutting.
“I think not only of them growing up but the team chemistry really increased after that game because we realized we can play with top dogs. It is not a game of talent it is also a game of hard work and we put in that hard work.”
The Tiger defense realized that it had to work together better with the team’s attack.
“We came together at one point in the season and decided that we need to be the starting point of our attack,” said Cutting.
“It is not one side of the field versus the other, it is more as a whole team. It begins from keeping people out of the 8-meter arc and doing the little things right. The little things are the big emphasis for us through the last couple weeks of the season so ground balls, balls down on the 8 are super important for us.”
While Princeton was sharp on defense against Dartmouth early, taking a 4-1 halftime lead, things got a little dicey in the second half.
“I think we may have been a little jittery and a little too excited,” said Cutting, who was credited with two draw controls, two caused turnovers, and a ground ball on the afternoon.
“We were sliding a little too hard, not to the right space. We just needed to be a little stronger. We came together multiple times and said we can do this, we can play better to your potential. We really emphasize the draws and while we didn’t have the best draw stats, we had hustle and hard work to get the ball back even when we didn’t win them. It was really impressive and important.”
An important factor in Princeton’s success this spring has been the bond among the team’s eight seniors.
“The eight of us have stuck together and it is not usual that you see a big class of eight seniors in this league,” said Cutting, whose classmates include Sarah Lloyd, Colleen Smith, Caroline Franke, Grace Bowen, Kellie Ragg, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Erin Williams.
“I think it is definitely commendable, not only to Chris (Princeton head coach Chris Sailer) and the coaches, but the team in general to stay together and really help each other through our ups and downs and through the hard practices, the cold practices. It is really important to us, we are all best friends and there is nothing better.”
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer credits the team’s Class of 2014 with setting the right tone.
“Our senior class has created a great culture,” said Sailer. “Since they were freshmen, they have had an impact on the team with how close they are, how giving they are, how hard they work. They put a lot into it this year and I am just so happy for them that we could finish it with a title. Every single one of those kids, whether they are starters for us or not, makes a difference for us. It is a special class; each one finds a way to contribute and add her unique qualities to the team and have made it what it is.”
Sailer points to Cutting as making a difference in the defensive unit. “Liz is just such an intense competitor; she is a driving force,” said Sailer.
“She is always ready to compete. She has had huge ground balls for us all season long. She has just been part of a really great defensive unit.”
Although Princeton didn’t play great in the second half against Dartmouth as it was outscored 9-8 by the Big Green, Sailer liked the grit her team showed in pulling out the win.
“It is always hard to close it out, especially against Dartmouth,” said Sailer. “We have a lot of history of knocking them out of what they have wanted to do and them knocking us out of what we have wanted to do. I knew this was going to be a battle no matter what their record is, they are a tough, tough team and they really pushed us to the limit. I think we showed some nerves out there today. There is a lot on the line but you have to give the kids credit for coming through.”
Capturing its first Ivy regular season crown since 2006 made Saturday’s struggle more than worthwhile.
“It is just a great win for the program,” said Sailer, who has guided the Tigers to 10 Ivy crowns and three NCAA titles in her 28 seasons at the helm of the program.
“It is our first regular season title in eight years. That’s huge, just to break through. To follow up the win against Penn with a big win today; those two have been the traditional teams we have been battling for the title with so it is just awesome. The team has really been driven, they have worked really hard. I think they have just really embraced the work. They are confident. They rise to challenges but they do the work every day.”
After playing at No 12 Penn State (9-6) on April 26 to end regular season play, 19th-ranked Princeton will host the four-team Ivy tourney from May 2-4, which will decide the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It is really exciting; it is great for the seniors,” said Sailer, noting that the tourney has been hosted by Penn the previous four years.
“We had a fantastic crowd today; to be able to play in front of them will be great. We definitely draw energy from them playing here at Class of ’52. It will be nice to not have to travel to Penn and keep our normal routine for the Ivy League tournament. We know that we have a lot of battles ahead. It is a great achievement for the team, it is our No. 1 goal. Now we have got to move forward.”
Cutting, for her part, is confident the Tigers will give the home fans something to cheer about.
“It means we have more games at home,” said Cutting. “We really draw from our support from our fans and family. It couldn’t be better that we are having it here. We are super excited. We are going to see these teams again and the Ivies are always a battle. We are making baby steps to the big tournament.”