Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team locked in a nailbiter against visiting Cornell last Saturday.
“Cornell has nine seniors out there; they have experience and they have had some good wins,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, whose team came into the day ranked 19th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse media poll while the Big Red was No. 17. “So we were anticipating a competitive game and that is what we got.”
The evenly matched teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. Princeton edged ahead 9-9 with 7:37 into the second half but then gave up three straight goals to fall behind 11-9 with 6:23 left in regulation.
At that point, Sailer called a timeout to settle down her team. “I wanted to give them a little rest; we were doing a ton of running,” recalled Sailer.
“I wanted to give them a couple of plays that we were looking to run. We also talked about what we wanted to get into defensively if Cornell got the ball. We just wanted to get them organized and ready to go for the last six minutes. In lacrosse, you can score a lot of goals in six minutes. We weren’t worried but we knew we had to be prepared for what was coming up.”
The Tigers came up big over the last six minutes of regulation as Cassie Pyle and Sarah Lloyd found the back of the net to force overtime.
In the extra session, Princeton fell behind 13-11 but then got within one on a tally by Barb Previ. That turned out to be the last goal of the topsy-turvy battle as Cornell held on for a 13-12 victory.
“That is tough to go down two goals early in overtime but again it is nothing you can’t recover from,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play with the setback.
“We were able to get the one goal off of a nice play but then we just didn’t organize as well as we needed offensively and Cornell took away some of our top kids.”
Cornell’s top player, senior star Jessi Steinberg, made things tough on Princeton as she tallied four goals and an assist.
“We knew she is a quick kid; she has such a good stick,” said Sailer of Steinberg, the second-leading scorer in the Ivy League with 45 points.
“You try to prepare for it and what her moves are but she beat us a couple of times. There was a little missed communication and not getting to those low angle shots. She drops that stick and it is a really good move.”
Princeton senior star Pyle showed some good moves as she scored three goals and played a key role on the defensive end.
“I thought Cassie had a nice game; she came through for us on the attack end,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Lloyd, Erin McMunn, and Charlotte Davis; with Previ, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Jaci Gassaway each chipping in one tally. “She had a big job because she was guarding Steinberg and was able to get some goals of her own. She has been consistent; she is a tough kid.”
The loss to Cornell was particularly tough to swallow for Princeton, coming on the heels of a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat at Johns Hopkins on March 25 which saw the Tigers squander an early 4-1 lead.
“We have now lost four games by a total of six goals, two of them in OT,” said Sailer, whose team’s other setbacks include a 11-10 double overtime loss to Rutgers and a 12-9 defeat to Duke.
“So I said to the kids, that tells me two things. It means that we are right there. We could be 8-0, we are competing in all of these games against all of these opponents. But we are just not making the plays when it happens and having the confidence in the clutch to pull out the win.”
In Sailer’s view, her players need to relax more in crunch time in order to start pulling out close games.
“We were talking about that a lot, there are just some things we can focus on in practice, putting them more and more in game situations,” said Sailer, whose team will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Temple (7-4) on April 4 before hosting Yale (3-6 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 7.
“Just little things we will try and change. I just want the kids to remember that it really is just a game and you just have to go out and play. If you are afraid of what might happen then you are not going to be in a good mental state. You have to be willing to make plays and be the hero and risk being the goat. You have to be fearless and play strong.”