December 26, 2012

SUDDEN IMPACT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase heads to the basket last Thursday night against Rider. Making his first-ever college start, freshman center Brase scored a team-high 17 points to help the Tigers pull away to a 62-45 win over the Broncs. The win improved Princeton to 4-6 and snapped a two-game losing streak. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hans Brase kept an even keel as he looked forward to making his first start for the Princeton University men’s basketball team when it hosted Rider last Thursday.

“It was just a normal game; I just happened to be out there at the tip,” said Brase, a 6’8, 231-pound freshman from Clover, S.C., who starred at the Hill School (Pa.).

“I have been playing basketball for a while. It is just like any other game. The goal is 10 feet, the court is the same size. It is just basketball really.”

Brase proceeded to show a lot of game, scoring a team-high 17 points as the Tigers pulled away to a 62-45 victory before 1,570 at Jadwin Gym.

Establishing an immediate connection with Tiger senior star Ian Hummer helped Brase knife through the Rider defense.

“When I got on the block, he would cut and there were wide open lanes,” said Brase, reflecting on his work with Hummer.

“When he got out, I would cut and he would find me so it was just really fun to play with him.”

It was fun for Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson to see Brase make an immediate impact.

“Hans is just a player; he is capable of doing a lot of things,” said Henderson, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 4-6 with the victory.

“I thought Hans gave us a real nice lift today in scoring. He has to just keep working because there is a lot there. He really helped us today.”

In addition to scoring, Brase helped Princeton handle the Broncs’ defensive pressure.

“He sees and he is another person who can open the floor,” added Henderson, whose team wraps up the 2012 portion of its schedule with a game at Akron on December 30.

“We are big and sometimes slow. It helps to have somebody who can really pass because Denton [Koon] and Ian are probably our fastest guys. He is learning and having a quick learning curve is the key for us.”

Another key for Princeton was being aggressive in driving to the basket.

“I think they were just looking for each other better,” said Henderson, who got 15 points apiece from Hummer and Koon.

“We are 10-of-19 from 2 in the first half and we are 26-of-48 for the game. I thought they really understood to establish what was important which was continuing to get the ball inside and looking to go to the rim.”

Brase, for his part, is looking to continue to make an impact inside for the Tigers.

“I just try to do whatever the team needs,” said Brase. “If the team needs me to play center, I’ll play center.”

December 19, 2012

NEW WORLD: Princeton University women’s hockey goalie ­Kimberly Newell tracks the puck in recent action. Freshman star Newell, who has posted a 3.26 goals against average and .906 save percentage in her debut campaign for the Tigers, will be playing for Canada at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, which will be held from December 29 to January 5 in Finland.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While being a hockey goalie necessarily puts one in high pressure situations, Kimberly Newell faced additional strain as she learned the position.

Growing up in British Columbia, Newell had to play in boys’ leagues in order to become skilled between the pipes.

Needless to say in the rough and tumble world of Canadian youth hockey, the boys didn’t roll out the welcome mat for Newell.

“Since I am usually the only girl, it is always a challenge,” said Newell, a Vancouver native who starred for the Kootenay Ice Midget AAA boys’ team in 2011-12.

“They are looking to replace you with a boy goalie. It helps you become mentally tough, you always have to be better. You need to compete and play well everyday; being consistent is important. Every game matters.”

Developing toughness and skill, Newell emerged as one of the top female goalies in Canada, playing for the British Columbia teams in the 2010 and 2011 National Women’s 18-and-Under Championship before making the Canada Under-18 National Team last summer.

Newell’s exploits caught the eye of Ivy League programs and she joined the Princeton University women’s team this winter.

Now halfway through her freshman season with the Tigers, Newell will be playing for Canada at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, which is taking place from December 29 to January 5 in Heinola and Vierumäki, Finland.

For Newell, playing in the the world competition represents the latest challenge for her in the game.

“I am excited,” said Newell, reflecting on heading to Finland. “I don’t get nervous, I am let’s go, I can’t wait to get started. I have never been to Europe. I think everything is going to be a new experience for me.”

Newell started playing goalie at age 10 and it didn’t take her long to take to the demands of the position. “I liked it immediately,” recalled Newell. “I think part of it was that it is high pressure. I like having everyone depend on me.”

Embracing the pressure, Newell moved up the ranks of female Canadian goaltenders, getting invited to the Hockey Canada Under-18 women’s selection camp in 2011. Although Newell eventually got cut from the team that year, she took a lot from training on the national level.

“I feel like everyone there loves hockey and really wants to play the game,” said Newell, reflecting on her 2011 experience.

“There is a different compete level; everyone wants to play and get better. There are all kinds of coaches there, strength and conditioning, skating. They encourage you to compete and to get better. There is a different atmosphere.

As Newell completed high school, she decided that she would benefit from the atmosphere of U.S. college hockey.

“I am not going to be playing hockey the rest of my life so I need to think about my future,” said Newell.

“I was looking to get the best education possible while still playing hockey and I thought the Ivy League schools would be the best way for me to do that. I liked Princeton. I liked the fact that they had a goalie coach. I went to one of the goalie sessions and I was impressed. I went on an official visit last November. I hung out with the teams, stayed at a dorm and went to class. Everything factored into the situation.”

Once Newell started at Princeton this past September, she encountered a different situation than anything she had previously experienced.

“I felt the biggest thing was that I had more work than I was used to and I was still playing hockey,” said Newell.

“When I had less work, I would get myself excited to play. Playing sports is 90 percent mental and you want to get into that zone where you are focused. I used to pump myself up to get into that mindset. Now I have to calm myself down because I am doing so much. I need to have a clear mind.”

As Newell makes the transition to college competition, she is bringing a new clarity to the ice.

“I feel the danger in college hockey is not in the first shot but in the second with rebounds and backdoor plays,” explained Newell.

“The college players aren’t much better shooters but they are better at making good plays. They are not always shooting to score, sometimes they are shooting to get the rebound. You have to really concentrate on that. I feel like I am adjusting well.”

Having started every game for Princeton, which took a 5-9-2 overall record into the holiday break, has helped speed up the adjustment process.

“It was a bit of a change to be playing full-time, I had split time before,” added Newell, who has posted a 3.26 goals against average in her 16 starts with a .906 save percentage. “It is just the way it is, I am used to it. It is an opportunity and something I enjoy.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledges that Newell has hit some bumps in the road over the first half of the season.

“She has had a lot on her shoulders; she has been a little up and down,” said Kampersal.

“She has been fairly consistent the last month; there are times when we haven’t given her much help. She is learning to fight and compete.”

In Kampersal’s view, the 5’9 Newell possesses the attributes to compete well at the world competition.

“Her quickness stands out, she covers a lot of ground,” asserted Kampersal, who will also be in Finland as the head coach of the U.S. U-18 squad.

“She is good on the butterfly, it is hard to get anything past her low. She gets out well and is a tall goalie. She can handle the puck. If she goes out there and has a big tournament, it should give her experience and presence.”

Newell, for her part, is looking to build on the experience she got from playing in a U.S.-Canada three-game exhibition last August.

“I played in the three-game series last summer; I played games one and three,” recalled Newell.

“It was good to see what that level of hockey was like and to play with the team in front of me.”

Ultimately, Newell would like to play at the highest level of international competition.

“My dream is to play in the Olympics,” said Newell. “But the best thing I can do for myself is to take it one step at a time. If you focus on the big goal, you forget about what you need to do to get there. I am going to the tournament to do my best and see what happens after that.”

AT THE HELM: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter drives past a foe in a game earlier this season. Junior forward Helmstetter has been averaging 13.0 points a game since entering the starting lineup to replace the injured Nicole Hung in late November. Last Wednesday, Helmstetter, a Bridgewater, N.J. native, scored 11 points in a losing cause as Princeton fell 61-54 at Villanova. The Tigers, now 6-4, hit the road to play at Illinois State (6-3) on December 19 and DePaul (8-3) on December 21 before heading into the holiday break. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University women’s basketball team played at Villanova last Wednesday, the Tigers didn’t show their usual zip in the early going.

Digging an early 15-8 hole, the Tigers trailed the Wildcats 26-18 at halftime. In the second half, Princeton fell behind by 14 before making a late rally that narrowed the Villanova lead to 47-43 with 5:43 left in regulation. But that was as close as the Tigers got in falling 61-54.

While Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was disappointed that her team didn’t complete the rally, she liked the resolve her players displayed in bouncing back from the subpar first half.

“That was the first time we came out slowly this year,” said Banghart, whose team dropped to 6-4 with the loss.

“We have been ahead by 10 in most of our games, even at UCLA [a 65-52 loss on November 25], we were up 12-2. It was good to see us come back after a 10 or 15 minute break at halftime and play much better. It means that we could be playing poorly before the first television timeout later this season and then adjust quickly after that.”

Health issues have forced Princeton to adjust as the squad recently lost starter Nicole Hung to a season-ending knee injury with other players such as Lauren Polansky, Annie Tarakchian, Alex Wheatley, and Mariah Smith each having dealt with nagging problems.

“We have really been hit by the injury bug,” said Banghart. “We have a lot of people banged up and people missing practice. We barely have enough for 5-on-5 at practice. It bodes well for the Ivy season, the freshmen and sophomores are getting experience.”

The injury issues have given such members of the supporting cast as junior forward Kristen Helmstetter and sophomore Blake Dietrich the chance to shine.

“Kristen is really a great example for the program,” said Banghart of the 6’0 Helmstetter, who has been averaging 13.0 points a game since replacing Hung in the starting lineup.

“We recruit talented, versatile players and they get better while they play for us. She has built her skill set. Dietrich is getting a lot better. It was good for her to have the week to work on her game.”

The team’s veterans have been key in helping the younger players get better. “We have a lot of maturity in the group,” added Banghart.

“They knew we were pretty depleted and going with a lot of inexperience. They appreciated that situation. They are bummed out over the off-court injuries.”

The Tigers will be looking to get some good experience this week as they hit the road to play at Illinois State (6-3) on December 19 and DePaul (8-3) on December 21 before heading into the holiday break.

“We are playing two very good teams and that is what we want,” said Banghart. “No matter what the results are, this is the schedule that they wanted. We just need to be really good by the end of January.”

In Banghart’s view, having been forced to juggle the lineup in the early going should help Princeton achieve that goal.

“I can honestly say that we are a better team than last year,” maintained Banghart, whose 2011-12 team went 24-5 overall and 14-0 in Ivy League play on the way to its third straight league crown.

“We have more weapons, we have more depth. The freshmen and sophomores aren’t just getting in when we are ahead by 30. They are getting in close games. There is no way that doesn’t help us down the road.”

December 12, 2012

CAT FIGHT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Jack Berger battles for the puck in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, junior forward and captain Berger and the Tigers fought hard but came up short twice against No. 9 Quinnipiac. Princeton dropped a 3-1 decision to the Bobcats at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on Friday evening before losing 3-0 to Quinnipiac the next day at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 3-6-3 overall and 2-3-3 in ECAC Hockey action, are on winter break and will return to action when they compete in the Catamount Cup from December 29-30 at the University of Vermont. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jack Berger and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s hockey squad got an up close and personal view last weekend of what is making Quinnipiac one of the hottest teams in the country.

Playing a home-and-home set against the Bobcats, the Tigers dropped a 3-1 decision at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on Friday evening before losing 3-0 to Quinnipiac the next day at Baker Rink. The wins extended the Bobcat’s unbeaten streak to 10 as they have risen to No. 9 in the national polls.

Although junior forward and captain Berger had hoped to lead Princeton to a pair of victories over the weekend, he believes the Tigers still gained something valuable from the experience of battling the Bobcats (12-3-2 overall, 8-0 ECACH).

“We wanted to get more points than zero, we wanted to win both games,” said Berger, reflecting on a weekend which left Princeton at 3-6-3 overall and 2-3-3 in ECAC Hockey action.

“We have a lot of positives, that is the hottest team in the league, maybe in the country, right now, and we definitely hung with them and we know that is a team that when we are playing our game, we can take it to them so we get a little confidence out of that.”

Berger liked the way Princeton started the game Saturday as it looked to rebound from the defeat on Friday.

Our first period was definitely better than the first periods we had last year,” said Berger, assessing a period which saw the Tigers get outshot by a slim 12-10 margin.

“That is something we have been trying to focus on and it has been coming out a little better. It wasn’t our best period but it was good. We were happy to be in the game like that and we felt good going into the second.”

While things went awry for the Tigers in the second period as they surrendered two unanswered goals, Berger didn’t think there was a wide gulf between the teams.

“I think we felt pretty good, there were a couple of details we weren’t taking care of,” said Berger. “I think we were in the game, it could have gone either way but we didn’t get the bounces.”

With Princeton headed to winter break, Berger thinks the hiatus will do the team some good.

“I think we are optimistic, we have a really good group of guys this year, asserted Berger.

“We get a lot of guys back after Christmas. We are doing a lot of good things. It will be nice to have some home games coming up and I think we are going to keep staying committed to our game and I am confident it is going to work out for us.”

In Berger’s view, the Tigers could be a force when they get back into action later this month by playing in the Catamount Cup from December 29-30 at the University of Vermont.

“I think we are really close to being a pretty good team,” said Berger. “I think the guys believe in what we are doing this year and they are going to work for it and keep plugging away.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier concurred with Berger’s analysis. “It is not like we have to go back to the drawing board or anything,” maintained Prier.

“We just have got to improve on the way we play and the systems. The guys are doing pretty darn well at this point. It is just more of those individual turnovers at lines that we have really got to sharpen up and making sure we are staying inside our checks defensively. It is fundamental things.”

Prier had no qualms with the effort he got from his team in the game on Saturday.

“I thought that was as physical as we have played all year,” said Prier. “When you have a guy like Andrew Ammon out who is your energy guy, a tough kid, other guys stepped up and I think they did a really good job against one of the top three or four teams in the country right now. I thought we played much better than we did last night so it was a big improvement. I think we were more physical, we played with more emotion, we played with more energy so it was good to see.”

While Princeton would like to have a better record going into the break, Prier is optimistic about the team’s prospects going forward.

“We are scoring a lot of goals in the first half and we have to learn how to keep them out of our net,” added Prier.

“We have had a decent first half and there is a lot to build on once we get a little depth. We have a lot of guys that are going to come back, we will be getting guys like Ammon back, [Mike] Ambrosia back, [Will] Ford back, and [Tucker] Brockett back. We are not as good as Quinnipiac right now but I tell you what, we are going to be awfully damn close or as good in the second half with the depth that we are going to have in the lineup.”

Berger, for his part, is determined to provide good leadership to help the Tigers get on the winning track.

“You want to just try to be as committed to the things that the coach stresses as much as you can,” said Berger.

“You try to lead by example. You just have to keep guys on the right track. You have to keep them upbeat and confident because I think everyone here really does believe that we have a good team. We just have to play like that every night.”

LAYER OF CLAY: Princeton University men’s basketball player Clay Wilson turns up the defensive heat in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Drexel, sophomore guard Wilson scored 12 points but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 64-57 to the Dragons. Princeton, now 3-5, plays Fordham on December 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Boasting a roster with 10 players 6’7 or taller, the Princeton University men’s basketball team believes it should be an inside force this winter.

But the Tigers have been held to a standstill on the boards in starting 3-4, getting outrebounded 222-216 by their foes.

Last Saturday against visiting Drexel University, some lackadaisical work on the glass helped doom Princeton as it squandered an early 30-17 lead on the way to a disappointing 64-57 setback before 1,970 at Jadwin Gym,

The Tigers outrebounded the Dragons 16-13 in the first half but got beaten to the punch in the paint in the second half as Drexel won the war of the boards 19-4 over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was disappointed by his team’s failure to use its size advantage in the second half.

“I thought we could be a very good rebounding team but we just didn’t have any rebounding presence to finish the game which ended up really hurting us,” lamented Henderson, whose team had previously blown early leads in losses to Northeastern, Rutgers, and Wagner.

“There were a couple times where we were boxing out nicely and we had a couple of those calls called against us. I think that they just turned up the heat defensively. I think when your two centers have two rebounds, we have to do more in that situation.”

Tiger senior star Ian Hummer, who had a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds, expressed his frustration with the team’s failure to get the ball inside.

“I think there has to be an understanding of the team regarding when and where our strengths are,” said Hummer, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance.

“I thought, as coach said, we are strong inside. We are not shooting the ball well so we are going to have to look at it and understand the game. Where does the ball need to be at what point in time. I think we are learning but we are not there yet. We need to be there ASAP.”

Henderson also saw a lack of offensive execution. “Who is going to make that one extra pass that makes that one possession offensively that much more valuable; let’s make them guard a little bit,” said Henderson, reflecting on a game which saw the Tigers shoot 5-of-19 from three-point range and 8-of-13 from the foul line.

“We couldn’t get anything going and then we missed our free throws. You had to make your free throws in that game to withstand another long run.”

While the Tigers made a nice late run to knot the game at 57-57 with 2:32 remaining in regulation, they were outscored 7-0 the rest of the way.

“We were down 55-50 and came back; I like the way we executed there and the way we defended,” said Henderson, whose team plays Fordham on December 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

We left [Damion] Lee on a wide-open 3 at the top of the key; it was a defensive mistake and he makes a 3. We executed offensively again and got a nice look and it didn’t go in. Clay Wilson, one of our better shooters, had a nice look from the corner. No excuses, that’s a nice win for Drexel.”

COLD STREAK: Princeton University women’s hockey player Brianna Leahy goes after the puck in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore forward Leahy scored a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to Quinnipiac. A day later, the Tigers fell 4-0 to the Bobcats in the second game of a home-and-home set as they suffered their third straight loss. Princeton, now 5-9-2 overall and 2-8-2 in ECAC Hockey action, is currently on winter break and will resume action when it plays a two-game set at the University of Connecticut on January 2 and 3.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, the holiday break couldn’t come at a better time.

The Tigers stumbled as they ended the 2012 portion of their schedule, dropping three straight games to fall to 5-9-2 overall and 2-8-2 in ECAC Hockey action.

Last weekend, Princeton got pushed around by Quinnipiac, coming up short in both ends of home-and-home set with the Bobcats, falling 3-2 at Baker Rink on Friday and then losing 4-0 a day later at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledged that his squad has been struggling against Quinnipiac recently.

“Quinnipiac is a really solid team, they have a good goalie and a dominant scorer,” noted Kampersal, who got goals from Kelly Cooke and Brianna Leahy on Friday as the Tigers valiantly fought back from an early 3-0 deficit.

“They are a tough team to play against and it has been a tough matchup for us the last few years. I think we are like what Terry Francona said about the Red Sox in his last season there, we are leaking oil. We are finding new ways to lose. We showed up ready to play on Friday and then we give up three goals. Quinnipiac always works hard but we put them on a platter for them. We did make a rally but we can’t dig out of that kind of hole. The next day we didn’t have enough gas in the tank.”

With Princeton not slated to return to action until it plays a two-game set at the University of Connecticut on January 2 and 3, Kampersal is hoping that the break will be utilized for some soul searching.

“We need to coach better and we need to play better,” said Kampersal, who won’t be back behind the Tiger bench until later in January as he will be coaching the U.S. women’s team at the U18 World Championships in Finland as 2013 rolls around.

“We need to use the break as time to reflect on what we need to do and putting in the time and effort to get better.”

Kampersal thought the Tigers were getting better when they fought hard in a 2-1 overtime loss to No. 3 Clarkson on November 17 and then won two of their next three games.

“We had a middle stretch where I thought we were figuring things out but we haven’t played well the last two weekends,” said Kampersal, whose team is currently seventh of 12 teams in the ECACH standings.

“The kids definitely need a break; we have small numbers and tough practices. It has been a grind.”

Princeton has shown a penchant in recent seasons to grind out wins after the break and Kampersal is hopeful that history can repeat itself.

“The good news is that in the past few years, we have come back stronger after the break,” said Kampersal. “We’ll see if this group has what it takes to do that.”

December 5, 2012

KNIGHT MOVE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky wards off a Rutgers defender last Thursday. Senior point guard Polansky contributed game-highs in rebounds (9), assists (7), and steals (3) to help Princeton win 71-55 and snap a 14-game losing streak to the Scarlet Knights. The Tigers, now 5-2, host Hofstra on December 5 before playing at Delaware on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Polansky knew what she was getting into as the Princeton University women’s basketball team prepared to play Rutgers while Kristen Helmstetter had no idea that she was destined to emerge as a star of the contest.

For senior point guard Polansky, facing Rutgers meant dealing with its trademark stifling, in-your-face defense.

“Rutgers has a great press; that is how they get going in their offense; getting things going fast with tons of turnovers,” said Polansky.

“That’s what ignites them; we knew that going in. We have been working on playing five versus six in practice so I think that really helped us. Personally, I knew that I would have the ball in my hands and as a point guard, I would be taking the brunt of that pressure.”

Helmstetter, a junior forward who had zero career starts coming into the clash last Thursday night, was thrust into the limelight in the wake of an injury to classmate Nicole Hung.

“I found out late last night that I was getting the start,” said Helmstetter. “It was unfortunate that Nicole got hurt but we got together as a team and really wanted to get this win for her and the whole team in general.”

Princeton made it clear from the opening tip-off at Jadwin Gym that it was intent on winning and breaking its 14-game losing streak in the battle of local rivals. The Tigers raced out to a 30-11 lead, putting the proud Scarlet Knights on their heels.

The 6’0 Helmstetter played a key role in the early surge, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds in the first half.

“Today was my day,” said Helmstetter, reflecting on an evening which saw the Tigers unveil the banner for winning the Ivy League crown last year, the third straight for the program.

“Everyone has their on days and their off days and we just have to work as a team and capitalize on who is on that day.”

In the second half, the Scarlet Knights turned up the pressure, cutting a 25-point lead to 12 but it wasn’t enough as Princeton posted a 71-55 triumph before a crowd of 1,036.

Polansky acknowledged that the Tigers had to weather a storm in the second half.

“Good teams are going to go on runs, they are not going to lay down and die,” said Polansky, who scored only one point but ended the evening with game-highs in rebounds (9), assists (7), and steals (3).

“After the first half, we knew they were going to make adjustments and we had to adjust to that. When they went on their run, luckily we were able to stop them and go on a run of our own.”

It was sweet for the Tigers to break their losing streak in the series. “It is a long-standing rivalry for us,” said the 5’8 Polansky, a native of Mill Valley, Calif. who is the two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

“Having them in our home gym with a good crowd with our seniors from last year coming back for the banner unveiling. It was really special for us. I think just all around, it was a great environment for us to play in.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart applauded the great effort she got from her players.

“I thought all night we had more energy than them,” asserted Banghart, who got 17 points from precocious freshman Alex Wheatley in the win with senior star Niveen Rasheed chipping in 15 points and seven rebounds.

“I thought we attacked their pressure versus breaking it before we had the clock on our side and that was huge.”

It was huge for Banghart and Princeton to have Polansky on their side. “LP came out and took care of the ball and set the tone with our offense,” said Banghart.

“She is just as tough as they come. She rebounded for her position. She stuck to the game plan, she held her teammates accountable. If there was a game ball, I would give it to LP.”

Banghart wasn’t surprised that Helmstetter proved that she has game. “Kristen can take care of the ball,” said Banghart.

“She has to play angles well and read the game well and she did both of the things masterfully tonight.”

Although Princeton hasn’t beaten Rutgers since 1976, the Tiger players didn’t get overly emotional in their post-game celebration.

“This is a business as usual group,” said Banghart, who earned the 100th win of her six-season Princeton tenure last Sunday as the Tigers routed UMBC 93-46 to improve to 5-2.

“They know that until January we have to figure out who we are. I hope they enjoy this one. The have a day off tomorrow so maybe they are more excited about that.”

Helmstetter, a former star at Bridgewater-Raritan High, certainly enjoyed playing a key role in beating Rutgers.

“It feels good; I am 10 minutes away from Rutgers so they are a team I have grown up watching,” said Helmstetter.

“It is just great to get that win against them. I know a lot of people on their team as does Kate Miller and Amanda Berntsen (both New Jersey natives). We have grown up with those players and then played against them in high school. It is good to see them and play against them.”

Polansky believes the win is a sign of good things to come for the Tigers, who came into the evening still smarting from a 65-52 loss at No. 19 UCLA on November 25.

“This is a really great win for us, especially after last week,” said Polansky, who will look to keep the Tigers on the winning track as they host Hofstra on December 5 before playing at Delaware on December 9.

“We have a tough preseason schedule which I think is wonderful. It gets us ready for our league and post-season play, if we are lucky. I think that is just a great step forward, proving that we are getting better everyday. It shows that all of our hard work in practice is paying off.”

MUCH BETTER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Olivia Mucha glides up the ice in recent action. On the mend from shoulder surgery that sidelined her much of last season, Mucha broke out last Friday with two goals in a 3-0 win over Union. The Tigers, now 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 ECACH, have a two-game set with Quinnipiac (!0-7-2 overall, 6-3-1 ECACH) this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After leading the Princeton University women’s hockey team in scoring as a freshman in the 2010-11 season, Olivia Mucha’s second college season didn’t go as well.

The 5’5 forward played only 12 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.

Mucha didn’t get back on the ice until this August as she skated at the Ice Line rink in her hometown of West Chester, Pa.

“I got to train with a lot of college age and junior boys at home so the physicality wasn’t much of a problem and being comfortable with my shoulder from my surgery,” said Mucha.

But Mucha suffered a setback once she arrived at Princeton for her junior year.

“I had a strep throat starting from the first day I got back and I had to get my tonsil and adenoids taken out,” said Mucha.

Coming into last Friday night’s game against visiting Union, Mucha was struggling to find her form, having scored two goals as she played in seven of Princeton’s first 12 games.

Over a 15-minute span in the second and third periods, Mucha started clicking, scoring two goals as Princeton skated to a 3-0 win.

With the Tigers knotted in a scoreless tie entering the second period, Mucha could feel the team pick things up.

“I think we honestly fed off each other’s energy, whether it is the line or the other teammates,” said Mucha, recalling a period which saw the Tigers score two goals to seize control of the contest.

“The defensemen were stepping up and getting the puck up. That is exciting for the forwards because we get to do our job, opening up things and it all started from there.”

It was exciting for Mucha to notch her first goal, a power play tally which gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead with 5:38 left in the period.

“I just remember that we were able to establish our power play,” said Mucha.

“We saw if we shot the puck and moved it quick, they were off angle. Gaby [Figueroa] was looking to the left and seeing it closed and then shooting it to get an opportunity, I just tried to screen the goalie.”

On her second goal, which came 8:49 into the final period, Mucha used her trademark grit.

“It was just Gaby getting a strong, hard shot on net,” said Mucha. “I don’t remember too much, I just remember it hitting my stick. Mostly, it was a scramble.”

For Mucha, her performance and the team’s solid win were heartening. “It was definitely a good step,” asserted Mucha.

“I think it has been tough for our team to establish what type of team we are from our graduation loss and mixing around players with some injuries. It has been an amazing feeling that our team, even so small, can be so dynamic.”

Having missed so much time due to injury, Mucha has dedicated herself to do whatever she can for the team whenever she is on the ice.

“No matter how great shape you are in, you are going to get tired, you are going to get frustrated,” said Mucha.

“I think everyone on the team hits that stage. Having these injuries, I know how much I get jealous when I watch. Even if I can’t get a goal, I am going to go out there and try to get the puck deep, do something smart.”

As Mucha gets up to full speed, she knows the Tigers have her back. “I am close to 100 percent; it’s all relative because it has been a struggle since I have been here,” said Mucha.

“I feel confident. I need to remember that if I am not 100 percent I have a team that will play with me. It doesn’t matter how one individual is.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledged that his team struggled in the early going on Friday.

“We were definitely sluggish, we still battled but we weren’t really executing well,” said Kampersal.

“We were just a little bit sloppy in catching passes. Then in between the periods, those are the things that we talked about. This is almost like a de facto playoff weekend and we need all the points we can get now because we have more games than a lot of people so we need to accumulate them because people will catch up with us when we are in exams in January.”

Kampersal was glad to see Mucha accumulate some points in the win over Union.

“Mucha is still banged up,” said Kampersal. “She is just a heart and soul kid. Her freshman year, she was one of our top scorers and her sophomore year she was our top scorer for most of our season after only playing 12 games. She can provide the offense for us.”

The team’s three seniors, Kelly Cooke, Corey Stearns, and Alex Kinney, have been providing a spark for the Tigers.

“They stepped up, the seniors have been doing a good job all year, no question,” said Kampersal, who got three goals from Cooke and three assists from Stearns on Saturday in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to Rensselaer to move to 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 in ECAC Hockey play. “Cookie gets the first goal tonight; she has had a phenomenal year.”

Princeton got one of its best defensive efforts of the year in the win over Union as freshman goalie Kimberly Newell earned her first college shutout with 19 saves and defenseman Figueroa and Alleva each got two assists in addition to their strong play along the blue line.

“It was awesome; I thought Bri Mahoney was unreal, just in control,” said Kampersal.

“All of them were really good. Once again, if those four or five kids control it, we are in good shape.”

Although Princeton stubbed its toe against Renssalear, Kampersal believes his team is in a good place.

“I thought starting with the Clarkson game, it feels right on the bench, it feels right on the shift changes and it’s a good brand of hockey,” said Kampersal, whose team has a two-game set with Quinnipiac this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8.

“Now we are just trying to be a little more disciplined in terms of getting the puck and doing what we have to, controlling the blue lines and controlling the neutral zones.”

Mucha, for her part, realizes that the Tigers need a little more discipline. “We are able to communicate amongst each other and between the coaches and the players about what our weaknesses are,” said Mucha.

“It seems that we recognize that not all of us are going to be perfect but we have to realize that we have our weaknesses and work on those and just listen to what the coaches are saying instead of being stubborn.”

November 28, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Alex Kinney glides up the ice last weekend against Ohio State. On Saturday, senior forward Kinney scored on a long-range slap shot to help spark a Princeton rally as the Tigers pulled out a 2-1 win over the eighth-ranked Buckeyes. Princeton, now 4-6-2 overall, hosts Union on November 30 and Rensselaer on December 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Alex Kinney likes to hone her long range shooting on a daily basis, sometimes to the amusement of her teammates on the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

“I do that in practice a lot and everyone makes fun of me,” said Princeton senior forward Kinney. “I take a lot of slappers.”

Last Saturday against visiting Ohio State, Kinney’s teammates were smiling and cheering after she blasted a one-timer into the top of the net from the point to pull Princeton into a 1-1 tie early in the third period.

“I was just trying to get the puck to the net,” said Kinney, reflecting on her moment of brilliance.

“It was definitely good to get it in, right at the beginning of the period. It kind of gave us momentum for the rest of the period. I felt like we kind of hemmed them in after that.”

Building on the momentum from Kinney’s tally, Princeton pulled out a 2-1 win over the eighth-ranked Buckeyes as a late goal from sophomore Brianna Leahy proved to be the margin of victory.

Kinney was not surprised that sophomore Leahy found the back of the net.

“Leahy does a really good job of crashing the net always so that was definitely a good effort on her part,” said Kinney, reflecting on the win that improved Princeton to 4-6-2. “She did that yesterday too.”

Kinney and classmates Kelly Cooke and Corey Stearns are putting in big efforts as they go through their final campaign with the Tigers.

“It is definitely a different perspective being here for four years,” said the 5’9 Kinney, a native of Lake Forest, Ill. who now has 28 points in her Princeton career on 10 goals and 18 assists.

“You realize this is the last of the last of everything. I think as seniors, that sentiment is shared between all three of us so everybody is trying to make that go from the top to the bottom through the team. I think we had a team meeting the other day and we are starting to get it. It is good.”

The Princeton team has worked through some rough patches this season. “I think the beginning of the season is tough, not everyone knows the systems,” said Kinney, who had an assist on Friday as Princeton took a 2-0 lead into the third period against the Buckeyes only to fall 4-2 in the opener of the two-game set.

“You have to get used to the game format and showing up every period and every shift. Every single shift counts, definitely the freshmen are getting used to the pace of college hockey versus high school hockey, which is a lot different. I think everyone is getting on the same page, so hopefully that continues.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal believes his team is getting on the same page.

“It has been a tough season so far but the kids have worked hard,” said Kampersal.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves by any stretch but we have had some tough luck definitely. I thought the Clarkson game [a 2-1 loss in overtime on November 17] was the first game we put together a really solid, smart tough hockey game. Maybe that was the turning point of our season.”

In the loss Friday, Princeton produced two power play goals to take take a 2-0 lead but then got overwhelmed in the third period as Ohio State outshot the Tigers 20-8 on the way to four unanswered goals.

“Last night, we played well but in the second period they took it to us pretty good and Kim [freshman goalie Kim Newell] bailed us out,” said Kampersal.

“You knew the dam was leaking and hopefully it wouldn’t break. Once they got that first goal, they had total momentum and we took some bad penalties.”

In preparing for the final game of the set, the Tigers focused on staying out of the box.

“We talked about that today,” said Kampersal. “We played smart all weekend, they played hard. We weren’t as disciplined last night as they we were today and that was the difference.”

In Kampersal’s view, Kinney’s tally made a big difference for Princeton “That was great, seconds into the period,” said Kampersal. “That was huge, that was an emotional lift. The seniors in general have had a good run so far.”

Kampersal noted that senior assistant captain Cooke has been giving the Tigers a lift all season long.

“Cookie had a great shorthanded goal against Robert Morris and had a penalty shot goal against Clarkson and then another breakaway here,” said Kampersal, whose team is 1-5-2 in ECAC Hockey action, good for seventh place in the league standings.

“Cookie has been playing phenomenal. She played great this week. She was unreal last week against St Lawrence/Clarkson. She has been doing a good job for sure.”

Freshman goalie Newell has been doing a good job for the Tigers, posting a 3.41 goals against average and a save percentage of .906 in starting all 12 games this season.

“She has been a little up and down, having more games and being young,” said Kampersal.

“She was a brick wall for two days this weekend. The goaltending position is an incredibly hard one and all I ever ask from the goalies is to give the team a chance to win and she battled. At big, key times, she made big, key saves.”

Kampersal is hoping that the team’s solid play against Ohio State last weekend can be a big boost going forward.

“Last year we had two ties with Ohio State that felt like wins and that seemed to get us rolling,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts Union (3-6-2 overall, 0-2-2 ECACH) on November 30 and Rensselaer (2-10-2, 0-4 ECACH) on December 1. “I am hoping that can happen again.”

Kinney, for her part, believes that Princeton can build on its play this weekend and get on a roll.

“I think we are on the right track, this weekend should be a turnaround,” said Kinney. “We are pumped up, we kind of forgot what it was like to win.”

STANDING TALL: Princeton University women’s basketball player Megan Bowen surveys the court in a game last season. Senior center Bowen has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this year and is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-2, hosts Rutgers on November 29 and UMBC on December 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling to Marist on November 17 to suffer their first defeat of the season, Megan Bowen and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s basketball team were determined to bounce back as they hit the Jadwin Gym floor three days later to host Rider.

“I think what we learned from Marist is that we are not where we want to be yet but each day we are getting better,” said senior center Bowen.

“So as coach [Courtney Banghart] said, yesterday we got better in practice from Saturday. Then today, we got better in this game than we were yesterday. Each day is a day to build and work together and become the team we want to be when it comes to the point in the season when we want to be strong with all 15.”

The Tigers were certainly better against the Broncs, jumping out to a 41-23 halftime lead on the way to a 88-42 rout before a crowd of 616 in their home opener.

In pulling away to the win, Princeton displayed its depth as 12 out of the 13 players who got in the game scored and each Tiger got at least one rebound.

“We have depth in all five positions; all five of us are looking to score and all five of us are looking to rebound,” said Bowen.

“I think coach said that in the box score tonight every single person had a rebound. That just shows you that we are a deep team so the more time the girls get in the game, the more it is going to prepare them for when we need all 15. Right now, we have 13 healthy. I think we are getting better each game.”

The 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa., has certainly gotten better over her career, going from a little-used reserve as a freshman to the starting five this winter.

“It was definitely exciting; I have been working hard for three years to get to this point,” said Bowen, who is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds a game this season.

“I wouldn’t say it was too much of an adjustment. You start out those first minutes in the game where Devona [Allgood] used to be. At no point was it anything that I had to be nervous about. Look at the four girls I am surrounded by, if I mess up, I have four very good players who have my back.”

Bowen acknowledges that she has big shoes to fill in following Allgood, who ended her Princeton career with 1,177 points and 802 rebounds.

“There is definitely pressure there but it is not a negative pressure by any means,” said Bowen, who scored 12 points in the win over Rider.

“I just have got to step up, take my time, make my moves, and work hard on defense. At the same time, I know I have Alex Wheatley, most often, coming for me, or even Mariah [Smith] or Kristin [Helmstetter]. I have full trust in all three of them so at no point do I feel like if I am having a terrible night that I don’t have anyone that can come in for me. That’s what I tried to provide for Devona last year. It is nice to have those people behind you.”

In order to help make up for the loss of Allgood’s offensive production, Bowen has spent a lot of time honing her shooting stroke.

“I definitely have worked a lot on my outside shot; I feel comfortable taking the shot within the three-point line although tonight my outside shot was not exactly falling,” said Bowen.

“I am not going to try and hog the post the whole time when we have these other girls. Niveen [Rasheed] is often stronger and taller than the girl she is guarding so she can get in there and post up. It is nice if my girl doubles, then I have an outside shot.”

Princeton head coach Banghart thought Princeton showed some nice progress on the offensive end in the win over Rider.

“We found out a lot of things in that [Marist] game which is why you schedule a game like that,” said Banghart.

“I thought that the steps that we made were important. For example, making the extra pass, 23 assists, tonight, which we did not do against Marist was important. Also, I thought being way more physical on the low block was important and we did those things. The things we asked them to do they did, definitely.”

Banghart likes the play she is getting from Bowen down low. “That kid has embraced her role and that is to now be a starter and a low post threat,” said Banghart.

“She’ll have some ups and downs but she is giving us exactly what I was hoping for. I am really proud of her because she is a great kid.”

While Banghart knows her team is going to go through some ups and downs as it works new players into its rotation, she is relishing the challenges ahead.

“That is the beauty of coaching, every year is different. With this particular team, we are not bringing back one kid who averaged double figures at Princeton in her life except Niveen,” said Banghart.

“We have great depth but it doesn’t matter because you only play 5-on-5 so we need to have the five that are in giving us something different than the next five that are in. So it is a fun team to coach because they all have their own strengths but the problem is they all have their own weaknesses too so we have to figure out how to limit those. It is a totally different team.”

One thing, though, that hasn’t changed is the team’s intensity. “I guess people take for granted how hard we play; I keep hearing in the handshakes before the game that you guys play so hard,” said Banghart.

“It is awesome, year after year, our kids play so hard. I think  we need a little more growth on the offensive end, like tonight with 23 assists. We need a little more growth and understanding how and taking pride in setting up your teammate and moving the ball better. That comes with a brand new offense and a lot of kids. It is just going to take time. We are going to try to play hard enough to stay in games until we can sharpen up the offense again.”

Last weekend, the Tigers headed to Southern California where they topped UC Riverside 72-68 on Friday before falling 65-52 at UCLA on Sunday to move to 3-2. For Banghart, the value of the trip wasn’t dependent on wins or losses.

“I think traveling with such a new group; you learn a lot about each other and I think that is an important part of it too,” added Banghart, whose team hosts Rutgers on November 29 and UMBC on December 2.

“This is the time in the season to get your California kids home and help your recruiting base a little bit. We do a lot of recruiting out there. With this team, it is about more than competing. This team competes. They are going to compete against Riverside and they are going to compete against UCLA; we have to be able to execute.”

Bowen, for her part, looked forward to the California swing as good preparation for a journey that the Tigers hope will land them in the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season.

“It is trip where we want to have fun, it is a holiday,” said Bowen. “We want to go out there and have a good time, winning definitely does a lot more than losing in that respect. We will prepare for them, there are adjustments you have to make along the way so we are going to have time difference, we are traveling and we are flying six hours but no excuses. You never know where you are going to end up if you make it to the tournament.”

CAREER NIGHT: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Andrew Ammon heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday at Sacred Heart, Ammon had a career night as he scored all four Tiger goals in a 4-3 victory for Princeton. The Tigers fell 3-1 to UMass-Lowell the next day to move to 3-4-1 overall. In upcoming action, Princeton heads to New York to play at Rensselaer on November 30 and at No. 8 Union on December 1.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s hockey team has only played eight games this season, the Tigers have proven they can fight back from a deficit.

In a win over No. 4 Cornell on November 9, the Tigers were down 3-2 in the third period but then reeled off three unanswered goals to post a 5-3 win. A week later, Princeton trailed 2-1 at No. 16 St. Lawrence but fought back to earn a 3-3 tie.

Last Friday at Sacred Heart, the Tigers forged another comeback, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a 4-3 victory.

While Princeton head coach Bob Prier admires his team’s pluck, he would prefer to see it start playing from ahead.

“We have done OK with uphill battles but we need to start playing better early in each game,” said Prier.

“We have to get off to better starts. We need to be ready to tear the door down and be ready to play every night.”

In assessing the win over Sacred Heart, Prier acknowledged that his team didn’t play all that well.

“A win is something we needed to get back on track as a team,” said Prier, whose team had lost 7-2 at Clarkson in its last outing before Friday.

“We didn’t play particularly well. They threw everything at us. It was good to see us battle back and get the win.”

It was good for Princeton to see junior forward Andrew Ammon break out with a career night in the victory over the Pioneers as he notched all four goals for the Tigers.

“Andrew was rewarded for a good week of practice,” said Prier of Ammon who came into the game with one goal on the season.

“His play away from the puck was great. He played physically and was the best player on the ice for us.”

The trio of Ammon, Tyler Maugeri, and Andrew Calof has provided the best production so far for the Tigers.

“That line has been great; they are one of the best lines in the league,” said Prier of the line who rank 1-2-3 in scoring on the Tigers with Maugeri leading the way at 11 points, Calof at 10, and Ammon having notched nine.

“It is a good line but we can’t go far with just one good line. Right now it is that line and Eric Meland doing the scoring. Eight games into this, I would have thought that we would be showing more scoring depth.”

Princeton’s lack of scoring balance and some sloppy play doomed it a day later as it fell 3-1 at UMass-Lowell in moving to 3-4-1 overall.

“I thought it was one of our best games of the year as far as playing systems and controlling the puck and the play,” said Prier of the game which was deadlocked at 0-0 until UMass-Lowell scored three goals in the last two minutes of the second period. “We had a bad turnover late in the second period that changed the momentum.”

The Tigers, true to form, didn’t fold after falling behind but could only manage one goal over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“We recovered and had a great third period; Kesselman got a good goal, Willie MacDonald made a great pass,” said Prier.

“Against a team of that caliber in their building, you have to eliminate things like turnovers and playing with one hand on the stick. These are things that we have harped on and they are costing us.”

Prier knows that his team needs to play sharper if it is going to come up with wins this weekend when it heads to New York to play at Rensselaer (3-5-2 overall, 0-4 ECAC Hockey) on November 30 and at No. 8 Union (8-2-1 overall, 3-1 ECACH) on December 1.

“RPI is coming off two wins this weekend and they are a pretty good team in their building,” said Prier, whose club is 2-1-1 in ECACH action, good for a tie for fifth in the league standings.

“They have lost twice to Union and once to Harvard so their record is not indicative. Union is a great team that plays a solid team game. They rarely make a mistake. They are committed to doing the right things and doing them properly.”

In Prier’s view, his team needs to be committed to bringing it from the opening face-off.

“We need to take the initiative, and not be reactive,” asserted Prier. “It’s going to be a nice challenge. We can’t be making the same mistakes; we have to get off to a good start.”

November 21, 2012

TITLE CELEBRATION: Members of the Princeton University field hockey team celebrate after they rallied to beat North Carolina 3-2 in the NCAA Championship game. The Tigers finished the fall at 21-1 as they earned the program’s first-ever national crown.
(Photo by Rick Voight, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Katie Reinprecht felt awful last Sunday morning just hours before the Princeton University field hockey team was slated to face the University of North Carolina in the NCAA Championship game.

“I woke up around 4 a.m. and at first I thought it was nerves; I was having stomach issues, going back and forth to the bathroom,” said Tiger senior midfielder and tri-captain Reinprecht.

“I met with one of the trainers right before breakfast and they thought it was food poisoning. They gave me medication and I was trying to get liquids. I knew I was going to play but I thought I might be running to a trash can during the game.”

As game time approached, Reinprecht was ready to take the field in Norfolk, Va. “The medication settled my stomach and I had two bottles of Gatorade right before the game,” said Reinprecht. “I had so much adrenaline, I had plenty of energy.”

By Sunday afternoon, Reinprecht was experiencing something she had never felt before as she helped second-seeded Princeton rally to a 3-2 win over the top-seeded Tar Heels and earn the program’s first-ever national championship.

“I was still thinking about hitting the ball but I saw Jules [younger sister and Tiger star defender Julia Reinprecht] collapse behind me so I knew it was over,” said Reinprecht, reflecting on the moment when the clock hit 0:00.

“It was an incredible feeling. It was such a team accomplishment. I knew this end was possible if we gave 100 percent.”

For much of the contest, it didn’t look like Princeton was heading to a happy ending.

The Tar Heels had the better of the play in the early going and jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Charlotte Craddock goal at the 11:26 mark.

“In the first 10 minutes, we were being outplayed,” said Reinprecht.  “The goal went in and we looked at each other and there was no sense of fear. We stepped it up from there and showed how badly we wanted it.”

Less than six minutes later, Reinprecht stepped up as she fed classmate and fellow captain Kat Sharkey on a penalty corner and the latter slammed in the tying goal.

The teams went into the locker room knotted at 1-1 at intermission and then 11 minutes into the second half Princeton found itself trailing again as Katie Plyler found the back of the cage for the Tar Heels.

Princeton, though, was unfazed. “No one likes to go down in a game like that but we had been in those situations before,” said Reinprecht. “I thought we had the momentum and I didn’t doubt that we could score.”

Reinprecht’s faith proved justified as Allison Evans notched the tying goal at 56:44 and then Amanda Bird tallied three minutes later on a penalty stroke to give Princeton its first lead of the contest.

The Bird tally set up a stomach-turning finale as Princeton held off a dangerous and desperate North Carolina team.

“It was the longest eight minutes; a timeout helped,” said Reinprecht. “We had a defensive priority, even Kat Sharkey was in the defensive circle. We didn’t want to let this slip away, we said we can’t let them tie this up. We had confidence and trust.”

That trust was critical as Princeton lost freshman star Teresa Benvenuti to a hamstring injury in warmup and then senior stalwart Molly Goodman went down with a knee injury 10 minutes into the contest.

“That was one of the most powerful things about the title game, everyone contributed in that game,” asserted Reinprecht. “People had to step up who weren’t used to that role and they rose to the occasion.”

As Reinprecht returned to Princeton this past August after spending a year away from school training with the U.S. national field hockey program and playing in the London Olympics, she was determined to step into a positive leadership role.

“When I came back from the national team, I knew what it was like to play with a talented team but that winning doesn’t correlate unless you put it all out there,” said Reinprecht, who was joined in her year with the national program by her sister along with teammates Michelle Cesan and Sharkey.

“I didn’t want the four of us to be unapproachable; we needed to fit in with the family. Everyone on the team had to be equal.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn points to team unity as the key factor in Princeton’s title run.

“Of course we have talent but it is much more important to have chemistry; I have been around talented teams that didn’t do as well as they should,” said Holmes-Winn, whose squad went 21-1 this fall, setting a program record for most wins in a season.

“I told them before the Duke game [the season opener on August 31] that you will become a family and you will love each other. It is not how talented you are but how hard you are willing to fight for each other. They looked each other in the eyes before the Maryland game [a 3-2 win in the NCAA semis on Friday] and they were ready to play for each other.”

The Tigers were ready for a stiff challenge as they prepared for the clash with the 23-1 Tar Heels, whose roster included former Stuart Country Day standout Jackie Gaudioso-Radvany.

“They are strong at every position,” said Holmes-Winn, noting that Tar Heel forward Craddock and midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick caused Princeton particular concern.

“We needed to lock down their game changers. We had to limit Craddock’s touches so we put a center mid to overlap in her zone. We told the midfield to run with Kolojejchick but don’t tackle her. We needed to stay in the play. I am proud that we showed the discipline to do that for all the game.”

That task was made harder by the injuries to Benvenuti and Goodman. “To beat North Carolina full‐strength is a huge challenge, but to do it accessing the depth on the bench the way we did is a product of our team’s hard work and preparation,” said Holmes-Winn.

For Holmes-Winn, seeing her players produce a national title evoked a deep sense of pride.

“To win at a place like Princeton is a colossal achievement; we don’t give scholarships,” said Holmes-Winn.

“They are students first and foremost. To be able to do everything they do in the classroom and also be the best in a sport is special. They are so inspiring to be around. As coaches, we can look in the mirror and feel so good about how we do it. They have a wonderful experience as students and athletes.”

As Princeton headed to the University of Virginia for the opening rounds of the tournament two weekends ago, Holmes-Winn had the sense that something wonderful was going to happen.

“I will remember how we went into turbo tournament mode,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We won the league and that was great. We dominated the play-in game [a 6-0 win at Lafayette] and you could feel the energy going into the tournament. Getting on the bus to Charlottesville, I was so excited. I knew we were going on a special journey and I could feel the belief and talent.”

Reinprecht, for her part, won’t soon forget the road she travelled to the national title.

“I am a very, very lucky girl to end my career like this,” said Reinprecht, who was named the 2012 Longstreth/NFHCA Division I Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year and totaled 156 points and 50 assists in her four seasons, good for fourth and second in program history, respectively, in those categories.

“It has been an incredible year and an incredible journey. It is fantastic to share it with this group of girls and coaches, they are such high quality people.”

OUT OF REACH: Princeton University defensive lineman Caraun Reid tries to corral Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams last Saturday. Reid and the Tigers faltered down the stretch, squandering an early 14-0 lead in falling 35-21 to the Big Green. The loss combined with Penn’s 35-28 win over Cornell knocked Princeton out of contention for a share of the Ivy League title. Still, the Tigers finished at 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy, a marked improvement for a program that had suffered through successive 1-9 campaigns. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

At about 2 last Saturday afternoon, things were falling into place for the Princeton University football team.

The Tigers had jumped out to a 14-0 lead over visiting Dartmouth and Penn was trailing Cornell 13-7.

A Princeton victory combined with a Penn defeat would secure a share of the Ivy League title for the Tigers and the final chapter in their heartening worst-to-first campaign.

But by 3:30, things had fallen apart as Dartmouth had jumped out to a 35-14 lead and Penn had pulled out a dramatic 35-28 win to clinch outright the Ivy crown.

The afternoon ended with Princeton dropping a 35-21 decision to Dartmouth as a crowd of 8,327 left a Princeton Stadium covered in shadows with night approaching.

While Princeton head coach Bob Surace was disappointed with how things turned out, he was able to see the silver lining in a season that saw Princeton end up 5-5 overall and 4-3 in Ivy play, a marked improvement after two successive 1-9 campaigns.

“I told the guys in the locker room how proud I am of them and what they accomplished and getting us to play a meaningful game at the end of the year,” said Surace.

“We had distractions and  things we had to overcome from what happened in January with Chuck [Dibilio] to Khamal [Brown] to all the different things that go on this week. They just remained focused and practiced hard. We just ran out of gas. You lose your right-handed quarterback [Connor Michelson] in the game before and he is not able to throw. Your lefty [Quinn Epperly] gets hurt the third play of the game and we just couldn’t overcome some of the things.”

With Princeton’s lead down to 14-7 at halftime, Surace sensed trouble on the horizon.

“We needed to have a bigger lead going into halftime,” said Surace. “We have had our foot on the pedal all year and we just couldn’t continue to get anything momentum-wise and give credit to them and their quarterback [Dalyn Williams]. I don’t know how many times that we had him in our grasp and had a shot at him. He found a way out of it and made plays and executed so it was a really good job by him.”

The game got away from Princeton in a four minute stretch of the third quarter which saw Dartmouth reel off 21 unanswered points.

Princeton senior co-captain and star linebacker Andrew Starks believed that the Tigers could weather the storm.

“Obviously when things happen like that, that’s us making mistakes,” said Starks, who had a team-high 16 tackles on the day.

“Not taking anything away from Dartmouth, they played a tremendous game and made a lot of great plays. When you are playing a team that has some athletes like they do, you can’t make mistakes like that. With that being said, I wouldn’t say we were unraveling. We made mistakes but I think at that point we still thought we were going to win the game. The offense would get going and the defense would stiffen up. We would make some plays and eventually turn things around. Unfortunately it just didn’t happen that way today.”

In the view of senior co-captain and defensive line standout Mike Catapano, the way Princeton turned things around this fall was reflected by its fighting spirit to the end on Saturday.

“We made some dramatic improvements and I am really proud of the guys,” said Catapano.

“We had some setbacks and some injuries with Khamal and things of that nature. This team never quit. Everybody thought we were going to be last in the league and this team really rallied together as a family and as a brotherhood. We fought every play of every game and that is what I am most proud of. We are going out that way too.”

In the early going on Saturday, it was Princeton that was making the big plays. After a scoreless first quarter, the Tigers got on the board first as they scored on a four-yard touchdown run by Epperly to take a 7-0 lead.

Minutes later, Princeton doubled its lead on a big play by special teams as John Hill scooped up a punt blocked by Seth DeValve and raced 23 yards for a touchdown as the Tigers went up 14-0.

Williams, though, struck for the first of his three touchdown passes of the afternoon, hitting Justin Foley for a seven-yard scoring strike to make it a 14-7 game.

Princeton responded by marching 73 yards to the Dartmouth two-yard-line. The drive stalled and the Tigers attempted a field goal but the snap sailed high and Princeton came up with nothing as its lead remained at 14-7 at halftime.

The third quarter quickly turned into a nightmare for the Tigers. The Big Green took the opening kickoff and tied the game at 14-14 on a 54-yard option pass from receiver Ryan McManus to Bo Patterson.

Princeton’s first possession of the half ended with a lost fumble and Dartmouth quickly capitalized. Williams hit McManus for a 37-yard pass and then found Mitch Aprahamian in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass as Dartmouth forged ahead 21-14.

The Tigers took the ensuing kickoff and fumbled the ball away. Once again, the Big Green cashed in as Williams scored on a two-yard touchdown run, extending the Dartmouth lead to 28-14. All told, the Big Green scored 21 points in a span of 4:03 as it broke the contest open.

Dartmouth added some insurance early in the fourth quarter as Williams hit Michael Reilly with a 37-yard scoring pass to go up 35-14. The freshman quarterback ended the day hitting on 20-of-35 passes for 284 yards.

Princeton did score the final points of the afternoon as freshman quarterback Kedric Bostic, seeing action with Michelson and Epperly ailing, scampered for a nine-yard touchdown run to make the final margin 35-21.

While losing the finale was disappointing, Catapano was proud of the excitement the Tigers generated around campus this fall as they made their unlikely bid for a league title.

“That was the goal of the seniors, that was the goal of our whole team — to bring pride back to this university and this football program” asserted Catapano.

“These guys work so hard 365. It is not just a fall sport, we go so hard in the summer time, so hard in the spring. A lot of people don’t see that but I think they got a much greater appreciation for what we did this year and trying to lay a foundation for something even better to come. That is what I am most proud of; that is what the seniors are most proud of.”

As a result, the Tiger seniors were determined to put on a brave face later that evening as they celebrated the bonfire they earned with wins over Harvard and Yale.

“To mope through an event that is so difficult to acquire would just be wrong and wouldn’t be the way to finish out the four years the senior class has had,” said Starks, who gave an impassioned speech at the
bonfire celebration on Cannon Green.

“Obviously this loss hurts right now. You never want to lose, especially when it is your last one. I think you have to have a quick bounce back period and go out there and have a good time with guys one last time.”

Surace, for his part, had a good time working with his Class of 2013.

“When they were building some of the buildings over there, I used to take pictures of the guys with hard hats and lunch pails going to work,” said Surace.

“I thought it was really neat; here you are at Princeton and when we go to work out at 6:30 in the morning, you have got these guys that are going to work with their hard hats and lunch pails. That’s what the group was. Whether we made mistakes, we played hard. Even today, I thought we played extremely hard.”

That tenacity helped spark this fall’s turnaround and should pay dividends as the Princeton program looks to keep progressing.

“We move forward; the reality is when I dismiss the seniors from our 3:15 meeting and it is just underclassmen, we have got to get going again,” said Surace.

“The reason we got to this point is guys like Cat, Andrew, and the other seniors just took the approach the correct way. I am confident we have built something where guys will continue to do that.”

WILL POWER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Will Barrett drives to the basket last Friday against visiting Rutgers. Junior forward Barrett scored a team-high 13 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 58-52 to the Scarlet Knights. The Tigers, now 1-2, play at No. 6 Syracuse on November 21 and at Lafayette on November 24. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

For the Princeton University men’s basketball team, its non-conference schedule is designed to be a minefield, providing an array of challenges to sharpen the squad for Ivy League play.

Last week, the Tigers saw things blow up on them twice at Jadwin Gym as they worked out some early-season kinks.

On November 13, Princeton blew an 18-point lead on the way to a 67-66 loss to Northeastern. Three days later against Rutgers, the Tigers jumped out to an early 12-3 advantage only to end up falling 58-52 to their local rivals.

“Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel for us,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, invoking the Batman catchphrase in expressing his disappointment after the Rutgers game.

“Once again, I feel like Rutgers deserves a lot of credit and we have to be able to execute a little better on the offensive end. I thought our defense was improved from the last time we went out. We made some mistakes that I think are correctable.”

Trailing Rutgers 33-27 as the second half started, Princeton displayed some better intensity as it went on a 9-4 run to narrow the gap to 37-36. The Tigers got it to 43-40 and 50-46 but could never get over the hump against the Scarlet Knights.

“We just couldn’t buy a hoop; we got it to 50-46 with four minutes left and we missed a couple of easy shots that would have really helped,” said Henderson whose team shot 7-of-22 from the field in the second half as it fell to 1-2.

“Our backcourt is struggling a little bit. T.J. [Bray] was a 40 percent shooter from 3 last year and I have confidence that we’ll turn this thing around.”

Henderson was dismayed by how his team struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 42-24 by an aggressive Rutgers squad.

“It is concerning, especially since I think that is what we want to hang our hat on this year,” said Henderson.

“They had six offensive in the first half; it was just like patty cake up against the glass. I thought that was a major point and I thought transition hoops in the first half made a difference.”

Tiger senior star Ian Hummer acknowledged that the Tigers were outfought on the glass.

“It was an overall team effort by Rutgers, they really destroyed us, they really pushed us around,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 10 points and four rebounds.

“I think we have to push back. We can definitely hit the boards as well, if not better, than they can. It just didn’t happen today and we just have to learn from it. We have got to go hard in practice and we’ll board up next time.”

Like Henderson, Hummer was disappointed by Princeton’s failure to execute when it was on the verge of regaining the lead.

“Rutgers is a very good team, but to be perfectly honest we didn’t play very well when we were only two or three points down,” said Hummer, who had played a major role in helping Princeton win the last two games in the series.

“To know that was the case and not being able to cross that threshold was kind of frustrating. Every time we cut it to two or three, they ended up getting a board and putting it back. It definitely takes the wind out of your sails. It just builds character. We are going to be in tough games throughout the season. I think we can really learn from this and we can play a lot better.”

Henderson, for his part, knows the Tigers will have to be tougher as they play at No. 6 Syracuse on November 21 and at Lafayette on November 24.

“We have hit some droughts but I think that we need to have the ability to adjust in those different changing defensive segments,” said Henderson.

“That’s why we like playing these games. They really help us and it shows us what we need to work on.”

November 14, 2012

MIGHTY QUINN: Princeton University sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly throws the ball in recent action. Last Saturday at Yale, Epperly passed for 66 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 91 yards and a score to help Princeton top the Bulldogs 29-7. The win improved Princeton to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play, tied for second with Harvard (7-2 overall 4-2 Ivy) in the league standings, one game behind Penn (5-4 overall, 5-1 Ivy). The Tigers end the season by hosting Dartmouth (5-4 overall, 3-3 Ivy) on November 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It is the kind of game-changing play that the Princeton University football team has failed to produce in recent seasons.

With Princeton locked in a 7-7 tie at Yale last Saturday late in the second quarter, the Bulldogs had second and goal at the Tiger five-yard-line and were poised to take the lead going into halftime.

Instead, Tiger defensive back Trocon Davis picked off a halfback option pass and raced 100 yards for a touchdown and it was Princeton that took a 14-7 lead into the dressing room at intermission.

Building on the momentum from Davis’ stunning play, the longest interception return in program history, the Tigers proceeded to roll to a 29-7 win over the Bulldogs before a crowd of 21,824 at the venerable Yale Bowl.

The win improved Princeton to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play, tied for second with Harvard (7-2 overall 4-2 Ivy) in the league standings, one game behind Penn (5-4 overall, 5-1 Ivy).

In addition to keeping the Tigers alive in the Ivy title race, the victory rekindled one of the school’s venerable traditions as a bonfire will be held on campus to celebrate the win over Yale coupled with an earlier triumph over Harvard. The celebration is slated for November 17 at 7 p.m. on Cannon Green.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace was fired up by Davis’s play and what it represented in his eyes.

“I hope this really shows where we are going as a group,” said Surace. “We have not been able to make plays like that in the past where we were struggling but still playing hard. We kept battling.”

But Surace knew that Princeton’s first half struggles weren’t negated merely by Davis’ moment of brilliance.

“I went in right away and told the coaches that was the worst 30 minutes of the season,” said Surace. “We need to play the second half as though it is 0-0 and I expect our best 30 minutes of the season.”

The Tigers got the message as they controlled the second half, outscoring the Bulldogs 15-0 and holding Yale to only 104 yards total offense in the last 30 minutes of the contest.

“We took the opening kickoff and went right down and got a two-score lead,” said Surace.

“I thought the last 31 minutes were very good. It was good to bounce back within the game and good to bounce back from two tough losses.”

Princeton’s tough start was due in part to the Yale’s different look in the unexplained absence of sophomore running back Tyler Varga, who came into the game with a league-leading 839 yards rushing.

“We had spent a good part of the week preparing for Varga,” said Surace.

“With him not playing, 80 percent of the preparation went out the window. They were using a new scheme and they had us on our heels. They are the only team in the league to beat Penn so they are as good as anybody. We couldn’t get first downs and we didn’t have time to make adjustments.”

In the early going, things looked good for Yale as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead with Grant Wallace catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from Harry Furman.

Princeton knotted the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter as junior Roman Wilson scored on a one-yard touchdown run.

The Tigers took a 14-7 lead into halftime on the heels of the Davis interception return as he crossed the goal line with 1:01 remaining in the second quarter.

Building on the momentum from the Davis pick six, Princeton took the opening kickoff of the second half and produced a 9-play, 65-yard scoring march. The drive culminated with a one-yard touchdown plunge by sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly. Kicker Nolan Bieck took a high snap and ran in for a two-point conversion to give Princeton a 22-7 advantage.

Later in the quarter, Yale appeared to have a touchdown as Mordecai Cargill burst into the end zone. But senior Mandela Shaeffer stripped the ball and freshman Anthony Gaffney fell on the ball for the Tigers.

“We stopped their back and he fumbled in the end zone,” said Surace, reflecting on the key turnover. “Anthony Gaffney came from the back side and got the fumble. He hustled past six Yale guys. Those are the things you like to see as a coach.”

Princeton put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, producing its longest drive of the season time-wise, taking 6:57 to march 69 yards in 13 plays.

Epperly hit sophomore receiver Matt Costello with a nine-yard scoring strike as Princeton went up 29-7.

The Tigers stopped Yale on downs in its next possession and then ran out the clock as it sealed its first win in the Yale Bowl since its 2006 Ivy title campaign.

With the Tigers needing to win over Dartmouth (5-4 overall, 3-3 Ivy) in its season finale this Saturday and Penn to lose at Cornell to earn a share of the league title, Surace will be reminding his team of a nightmarish experience he had six years ago during his NFL days.

“In 2006 when I was coaching with the Bengals, we had to beat the Steelers, and three other teams had to lose for us to make the playoffs,” recalled Surace.

“Some of the guys got engaged in sending messages to the other teams and they lost focus. We lost in OT to the Steelers; we made uncharacteristic mistakes. Our kicker missed field goals. We dropped balls and made mistakes. We lost an opportunity to make the playoffs and maybe make a run. We need to take care of our own business. Nothing good happens for us if we don’t beat Dartmouth.”

Princeton must bring the focus it showed in the second half against Yale in order to overcome a solid Big Green squad.

“They have played extremely well, they lost to Penn on the last play and gave up a late score in losing to Brown,” noted Surace in assessing Dartmouth.

“They are a young team like us; it is like looking in the mirror. The running back [Dominick] Pierre is a stud. They are playing a freshman QB [Dalyn Williams] along with a sophomore [Alex Park] and the freshman is one of the passing efficiency leaders in the league. They have two wideouts [Michael Reilly, Ryan McMaunus] who are terrific. The offensive line has improved. Defensively, they have been strong since I got in the league. They are good up front, they are fundamentally sound.”

TITLE CHASE: Princeton University field hockey senior star ­Katie Reinprecht heads up the field in a game earlier this fall. Last Sunday, midfielder Reinprecht tallied a goal and two assists as No. 2 Princeton topped seventh-ranked Virginia 5-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Tigers, now 19-1, will face No. 6 Maryland (18-5) on November 16 at Norfolk, Va. in one national semifinal with the winner advancing to the title game on November 18 against the victor of the North Carolina-Syracuse semi matchup. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In late October, the second-ranked Princeton University field hockey team got a scare as it pulled out a 2-1 win over No. 7 Virginia.

When the programs met again last Sunday in the NCAA quarterfinals, it looked for a while like the Cavaliers might turn the tables on the Tigers as Virginia jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 early in the contest at Charlottesville, Va.

But Princeton junior goalie Christina Maida wasn’t concerned. “We knew this game was going to have a lot of highs and lows,” said Maida.

“At this level of field hockey there are always going to be some goals conceded but we knew that we just had to keep fighting and it paid off in the end.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn likewise had confidence that her players would come through.

“We knew that they would try to make it into a track meet and they were successful in that first bit,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We just had to maintain our composure. These guys have extraordinary will and great organization.”

Utilizing that will and its great skill, Princeton scored two goals midway through the first half to take a 3-2 lead into the break. In the first seven minutes of the second half, Tiger senior star Kat Sharkey found the back of the cage twice and Princeton never looked back on the way to a 5-2 triumph and its first trip to the Final 4 since 2009.

Once Princeton pulled ahead 3-2, Maida felt the Tigers would take control of the contest.

“It was back and forth, back and forth and once it was 3-2 we said it is not going to be back and forth, it is just going to be us scoring goals,” said Maida. “We played really strong defense; they had a lot of corners but we held them and it was awesome.”

It was an awesome feeling for Maida to be heading to her first final four. “I have wanted this since I got here,” said Maida, a native of Doylestown, Pa. who has a goals against average of 1.06 this season in helping Princeton go 19-1.

“As a freshman, the class before that had gone to the final four and that is all that I heard about. We just wanted this so badly and these past years we have had losses in the first or second round of the tournament so it is so amazing to get to the final four. We are so excited.”

Holmes-Winn was excited to see this group make it to the national semis in Norfolk, Va. where they will face No. 6 Maryland (18-5) on November 16 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 18 against the victor of the North Carolina-Syracuse semi matchup.

“You just work all year on making sure that you get the details right,” said Holmes-Winn, who got two goals from sophomore Sydney Kirby with Katie Reinprecht chipping in a goal and two assists.

“I am just so happy for this group because they are such amazing young women. They deserve it. They work their heart and soul out everyday. They just played a real professional game so it is amazing.”

Holmes-Winn credited Virginia with making Princeton work hard all over the field.

“They pressed us,” said Holmes-Winn. “I thought they did a great job, certainly in the opening minutes to strip Julia [Reinprecht] and create an opportunity. It was good for us to see that; no one has really pressed us in a while so it was good to face that going into next weekend.”

In facing Maryland, Princeton will be looking to maintain the focus that helped the Tigers edge the Terps 3-2 in early October.

“This is not our first rodeo; we have been around for a while so I think this team is going to keep doing what we have been doing,” said Holmes-Winn, who has guided the Tigers to eight straight Ivy League titles and two final fours.

“Taking care of the small things because that is what wins you games. I think we will keep paying attention to details and stay sharp and stay focused.”

Maida, for her part, sees the win over Virginia as proof that Princeton has a lot of things going in its favor.

“At the end of the day, we sustained the energy,” said Maida. “We have got one complete team and that is the difference between them and us I think. We play as a unit and that really paid off.”

And by Sunday afternoon, the Tigers might prove to have the best unit in the country.

SPECIAL RUN: Princeton University women’s soccer star Jen Hoy, right, chases down the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Hoy notched the game-winning goal as Princeton edged West Virginia 2-1 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to win its 12th straight contest and post its first victory in the national tournament since 2004. The Tigers, now 14-3-1, will face Big East champion Marquette (17-2-2) in the round of 32 on November 15 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The winner of that game will face the victor of the BYU-Auburn contest in the next round. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University women’s soccer team brought an 11-game winning streak into its NCAA opening round game at West Virginia, the host team wasn’t overly impressed.

“I think they were totally unprepared for us,” said Princeton head coach Julie Shackford. “I don’t think they knew how good we were.”

It didn’t long for the Mountaineers to realize that they were facing a good foe as Tiger sophomore Lynessa McGee scored a goal in the fifth minute of the contest to give Princeton a 1-0 lead. Senior star Jen Hoy added another tally in the 54th minute to double the Tiger lead.

West Virginia responded with a goal in the 82nd minute but it was not enough as Princeton held on for a 2-1 victory, improving to 14-3-1 in the process.

The Tigers will now face Big East champion Marquette (17-2-2) in the round of 32 on November 15 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The winner of that game will face the victor of the BYU-Auburn contest in the next round.

As Princeton got ready for the clash at West Virginia, Shackford sensed that her team wasn’t happy to just be in the tournament.

“The kids wanted to win; it was not good enough to just be there,” said Shackford, who is in her 18th season at the helm of the Tiger program. “They have been grinding axes all year.”

Senior goalie Claire Pinciano helped Princeton grind out the win, making seven saves as the Tigers weathered the late charge by West Virginia.

“Claire had a phenomenal game; she made some really big saves,” said Shackford. “It was her best game in her four years here.”

Hoy, the Ivy League Player of the Year, is having one of the best seasons in Princeton history.

“Jen is creating or scoring; she seems almost unstoppable,” said Shackford of Hoy, who now has 18 goals this fall, just two behind the single-season record set by current assistant coach Esmeralda Negron in 2004.

“She blew by the Big 12 Defender of the Year like she was running backwards.”

In continuing its amazing run, the Tigers notched its first NCAA win since 2004. That team went on to win four games and advance to the College Cup semifinals.

While Shackford isn’t ready to say that her 2012 team can match those heroics, she believes her current squad could pull some more surprises.

“I think we are capable of going far; we do have a lot of injuries so that concerns me,” said Shackford, noting that four starters have been sidelined due to injury and that two others, McGee and Allison Nabatoff, are doubtful for the Marquette game.

“There are parallels to Negron and [Emily] Behncke and that team. Some teams only have one finisher, we have several kids who can finish.”

Shackford knows that Princeton is facing a tough team in Marquette. “They are very athletic, they go forward with pace and they are stingy on defense,” said Shackford. “They won the Big East tournament.”

But the Golden Eagles would be well advised to not take the Tigers lightly.

“We are not going to back down from anybody; I think it will be hard to knock us out,” said Shackford.

“It has been a dream team to coach, they have done everything we have asked and they are invested.”

JACKED UP: Princeton University men’s hockey player Michael Zajac, left, celebrates after scoring a goal in a 4-0 win over visiting Colgate last Saturday. Freshman forward Zajac enjoyed a big weekend in his Baker Rink debut, tallying a goal and an assist on Friday as the Tigers topped fourth-ranked Cornell 5-3. Princeton, now 2-2 overall and 2-0 in ECAC Hockey action, plays at St. Lawrence on November 16 and at Clarkson on November 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For most hockey players, a year or two of junior hockey after high school is a prerequisite to success on the ice at the college level.

Michael Zajac is proving to be the exception to the rule as he has gone straight from Eagan High in Minnesota to a rousing start in his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team.

Last Friday, Zajac made his debut at Baker Rink as Princeton hosted No. 4 Cornell and emerged as a star of the game, scoring his first career goal and adding an assist to help the Tigers beat the Big Red 5-3.

A day later, the 6’3, 210-pound forward chipped in a goal as Princeton blanked Colgate 4-0 to improve to 2-2 overall and 2-0 in ECAC Hockey play.

For Zajac, the first home weekend of his college career was one he won’t soon forget.

“It was unbelievable; I am thankful that my parents came all the way from Minnesota to see it,” said Zajac.

“Both of my parents and my little sister got to see my first goal so I couldn’t be more happy for that. After you get your first one, it is a huge weight off of your shoulders. The second one is definitely just as exciting. I am just glad I can help my team get the win.”

In Zajac’s view, the team’s success last weekend was the product of diligence in training.

“We had a great practice week; we worked our butts off. I think it is just a compilation of our hard work we put in, the sweat and tears during the week. It was great getting the sweep.”

For Zajac, making the transition to the college game has involved sweating the details.

“The biggest adjustment is definitely the speed of the game, how quickly the pucks move,” said Zajac.

“Also the physicality, people are a lot bigger and stronger. Passes are a lot crisper and you have to be ready for the puck at all times because you are playing with some great players who can make great plays at any time.”

In making such rapid progress, Zajac has benefited from playing on a line with junior captain Jack Berger and senior assistant captain Rob Kleebaum.

“I couldn’t ask for two better linemates,” said Zajac. “They are both tremendous leaders on our team, both captains. They definitely give me instructive criticism when I need it, which definitely helped tonight. I couldn’t ask for two better leaders to show me the ropes of college hockey.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier couldn’t ask for more from his freshman star.

He is a big, tough kid,” said Prier. “To have him come in and play like the manchild as he has is encouraging. He does everything really hard; he has a heavy shot. He thinks the game well. He has got a high skill level and great poise with the puck for first-year kid so kudos to him. He has certainly earned those goals; crashing the net and being around the net. He scored goals at the high school level and he has those same habits where he is getting them here. He is big and strong enough that he has made the adjustment rather well.”

It was a strong goal by Kleebaum in the third period of the win over Cornell on Friday that jump-started the Tigers.

“That first win is a tough one to get, no doubt about it,” said Prier, whose team led the Big Red 2-0 after two periods and then fell behind 3-2 before Kleebaum scored to trigger a three-goal avalanche.

“I think the way that we won with Rob Kleebaum scoring just an incredible goal. It was a great goal. It was a goal where he had tremendous will to just make it. It changed the entire attitude and momentum of the game. Once he did that as a senior forward, it got us thinking in the right direction. Here we go, we can do this. Sometimes, that is what you need.”

In Prier’s view, the Tigers sorely needed to put together two big efforts on home ice.

“It gets us moving in the right direction,” said Prier, who got goals from Mike Ambrosia, Tyler Maugeri, and Michael Sdao in the win over Colgate with Andrew Calof chipping in two assists.

“It gets the guys in the right mindset, understanding how they need to play to be successful. Turning into a little bit of a more methodical team is nice to see. The guys had some great individual efforts out there, too.”

Senior goalie Mike Condon gave Princeton a great effort over the weekend, making 22 saves in the win over Cornell and then recording 22 stops against Colgate in earning his second career shutout.

“I think he certainly learned a lot in the first three games he played and he certainly put it to work tonight,” said Prier.

“That wasn’t an easy game for him to play. Colgate is a very offensive team. They are a hot and cold team with a ton of skill so he did a great job against a team that does score a lot of goals.”

Junior forward Calof flashed his skill against Colgate as he set up the goals by Ambrosia and Maugeri.

“I assume that Calof is one of the top producers already in the league and he has to just keep it going because I think that’s what he expects out of himself,” added Prier of Calof who has a team-high seven points on three goals and four assists.

“He plays with such poise; he made two incredible plays on Maugeri’s goal and the Ambrosia goal.”

The Tigers got some poised play from bruising senior defenseman and assistant captain Sdao.

“He had an incredible weekend,” asserted Prier. “This is the best weekend I have seen him have in the year I have been here. It is fun to see him separate guys from pucks and do it in a clean way. He didn’t get a penalty all weekend and he was by far the toughest kid in both games.”

With Princeton playing its next seven games on the road, Prier is looking for his team to hang tough away from the friendly confines of Baker Rink.

“If we want to be the team that we seek to be, we have to do well,” said Prier, whose team plays at St. Lawrence (5-2-1 overall, 0-1-1 ECACH) on November 16 and at Clarkson (1-4-4 overall, 1-0-1 ECACH) on November 17.

“We don’t have a choice. It is nice to have a home ice advantage. We have to develop that same type of the game on the road too and just play the same way.”

Zajac, for his part, believes the Tigers can build on the success they experienced last weekend.

“Road games are tough, you don’t have the satisfaction of playing in front of your own fans,” said Zajac.

“Definitely getting two wins will put some fire in our bellies and show the country what the Tigers are made of.”

TAKING AIM: Princeton University men’s basketball player ­Brendan Connolly takes a free throw at practice last week. The 6’11, 255-pound senior center contributed eight points and two rebounds last Saturday as Princeton won 57-53 at Buffalo in its season opener. The Tigers host Rutgers on November 16.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Brendan Connolly believes that the Princeton University men’s basketball team gained a lot from its journey this past summer to Spain.

“I think we got to work out what you think of as early season mistakes,” said senior center Connolly, reflecting on the 10-day excursion which saw Princeton play four games against Spanish pro teams.

“Off the court, we loved it. We still talk about it. It furthered the relationship that was already there with the guys.”

Connolly and his teammates were looking for a productive jaunt last Saturday as they played at Buffalo in the season opener for both teams.

“It will be a good trip for us right off the bat,” said Connolly. “I am excited for the opportunity to test ourselves and show that we are going to work hard every night. That’s what it is going to be all about.”

The Tigers produced some good work as they edged Buffalo 57-53 with Connolly contributing eight points and two rebounds. Junior Will Barrett led the way for Princeton in the win with 20 points and nine rebounds while senior star Ian Hummer chipped in 12 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.

For the 6’11, 255-pound Connolly, the performance in the win last Saturday marked the latest step in his progression into a key player for the Tigers.

“I think obviously there were statistical improvements that you could see last year; I just think things were coming together,” said Connolly, who averaged 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds a game last winter.

“I worked as hard as I needed to and it showed up at the end of the season and that is what you want. I wish it had showed up a bit earlier but I am glad it happened when it did and I am trying to continue with that.”

Connolly will also be looking to continue the partnership he has formed with classmate Mack Darrow as the two emerged as a potent 1-2 punch at center for Princeton.

“Because we bring such different things, I think it works pretty well; neither of us are jealous about playing time,” said Connolly.

“We get on the court when we do and we are happy with that. We know what we can bring to this game individually and we just try to work on that. I think that I can show up in certain defensive scenarios and there are certain defensive scenarios where Mack is just a better fit. It is the same thing with offense because he can stretch the floor so well.”

The team’s senior class, which includes Ian Hummer in addition to Connolly and Darrow, is looking to show the ropes to the younger players.

“We are trying to do the little things more because we have been around the block more than the other guys,” said Connolly.

“That is really where it comes in; not necessarily knowing that this is the last chance but knowing that we’ve seen more than other guys have seen and we can bring more to the table. We are definitely trying to bring them along and just show them what it takes to work hard and have success at this level.”

In Connolly’s view, Princeton could experience a lot of success this winter.

“We think we can do big things, I will leave it at that,” said Connolly of the Tigers, who finished third in the Ivy League last winter after winning the crown in the 2010-11 campaign.

“It is going to take a lot of things to come together. There is no sure thing ever in any season. We know what our goals are and what we want to get to.”

OPENING SHOT: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kate Miller takes a shot in a recent practice. Last Sunday, senior forward Miller and the Tigers got their 2012-13 season off to a good start as they opened with a 69-59 win at St. Joseph’s. Princeton, the three-time defending Ivy League champion, will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at Marist on November 17 and then hosts Rider on November 20.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University women’s basketball team has gone 41-1 in Ivy League play over the last three seasons and was picked first in the league’s 2012-13 media preseason poll, Kate Miller doesn’t believe complacency will be an issue this winter.

“It is really exciting going into the year,” said senior forward Miller, a native of Rumson, N.J.

“We have so much pride that we have built over the years and the coaches have done a great job of keeping it within the lines. We play for the name on the front of our shirts and that is all that matters.”

The team’s outstanding play over the last three years has been fueled by a selfless mentality.

“It is something special to have such a talented group of girls that care more about each other than themselves individually,” added Miller.

“I think as long as we keep that and we just fight for Princeton, the target makes it fun.”

Miller and the Tigers had fun last Sunday as they topped St. Joseph’s 69-59 in the season opener. Senior star Niveen Rasheed scored a team-high 14 points for the Tigers while junior guard Nicole Hung chipped in 12.

The 6’0 Miller contributed two points and two rebounds in the victory as she began her second season as a full-time starter for the Tigers.

“You definitely have to own up a little more,” said Miller, reflecting on her play last winter when she averaged 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds a game.

“This team is great, no one is super selfish; they let you play to your strengths more. I looked to be more of an offensive threat but also stay within the role of our offense and defense. This isn’t a team about superstars or stats, it just works to have all of us fight for the win. That’s all I want.”

With the graduation of Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards, who combined for nearly 2,500 points in their Tiger careers, Miller knows that she needs to put up some more offensive stats.

“I think missing those two, all of us have to really step up and fill those missing points,” said Miller.

“I think we have the talent to do it. For me, being a senior and having three years under my belt will help with that.”

Getting the game against St. Joe’s under their belt was a good first step for the Tigers.

“It is always exciting to see where we stand,” added Miller, who will look to help keep the squad on the winning track as it plays at Marist on November 17 before hosting Rider on November 20.

“We practice against each other. We know our offenses and our plays so it is nice to put it against someone who doesn’t know.”

Miller and her teammates are excited about Princeton’s non-conference schedule which will pit it against a number of national powers as it hones things before getting into the Ivy season.

“Our coaches match us up against really tough teams,” said Miller, reflecting on a schedule that includes such foes as UCLA, Rutgers, DePaul, Villanova, Delaware, and Navy.

“We might have more losses than we are used to but to play in those games gives us the experience that we will all benefit from over the long term of the season. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is good to get the kinks out and the experience in the preseason and then we go through the Ivies. Being able to recall games and how we played against our preseason teams really helps to build that confidence if we get back to postseason play.”

For Miller and her fellow seniors, Rasheed, Lauren Polansky, and Meg Bowen, making some noise in the postseason is a major goal.

“We came in and we have been fighting for four years for a tournament win,” said Miller.

“We got really close last year. This is the year where it really is your team and I think the four of us feel that and hope it resonates through the team.”

November 7, 2012

CROWNING TOUCH: Princeton University women’s soccer star Caitlin Blosser looks for the ball in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Penn, senior forward Blosser scored the final goal of the game as Princeton prevailed 4-2 to clinch a perfect Ivy League campaign. The Tigers, now 13-3-1 overall and 7-0 Ivy, play at West Virginia (11-4-4) this weekend in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University women’s soccer team locked in a 3-2 dogfight last Saturday against visiting Penn and an undefeated Ivy League season on the line, the ball bounced to Caitlin Blosser in front of the goal.

The Princeton senior forward was determined to come through with the Tigers on their heels after the Quakers rallied from a 3-0 deficit.

“Jen Hoy did all the work and I got to pick it up at the end,” said Blosser. “I know getting that opportunity that if I didn’t finish it, I would have regretted it. I needed to finish the goal and I wanted to finish the game out.”

Blosser finished the play with aplomb, blasting the ball into the top of the net to give the Princeton a much-needed insurance goal as it went on to a 4-2 victory.

The win was the 11th straight for Princeton and clinched the league title and a berth in the upcoming NCAA tournament as the Tigers ended the regular season at 13-3-1 overall and 7-0 Ivy. Princeton will be playing at West Virginia (11-4-4) this weekend in the first round of the national tourney.

In the wake of a raucous postgame celebration which started with the league trophy presentation at midfield of Roberts Stadium, Blosser savored the achievement of producing an undefeated league campaign.

“In any league you are in, it is so hard to do, “ said Blosser. “We knew coming into this week’s game that even though we knew we had partially clinched the title, we wanted to win it all. We wanted to get that undefeated record and clinch the NCAA berth. We didn’t want any drawing out of a hat.”

It has been a hard road for Blosser who has experienced an up-and-down career which saw her go from scoring one goal as a freshman in 2009 to tallying six goals and seven assists in an All-Ivy campaign sophomore season but then dropping off to two goals in an injury-shortened 2011 campaign.

Blosser’s struggles exemplify the journey traveled by the team’s eight seniors.

“We have been through some ups and downs, especially with all the injuries we have been through,” said Blosser of the class who had posted a pedestrian overall record of 22-23-5 coming into this fall, including a disappointing 6-10-1 record in 2011.

“I think there was another motivation, specifically coming from our class, because we haven’t won one yet. We wanted it, we knew we deserved it. We knew we had the talent on this team to do it.”

Blosser has benefitted from playing up front with such talents as classmate Jen Hoy, the top goal scorer in the Ivies with 17, and sophomore star Lauren Lazo, who had three goals in the win over Penn.

“Both Hoy and Lazo are phenomenal players,” asserted Blosser. “They have done a great job in helping us create chances up there with their speed and athleticism.”

The team has developed a togetherness which has helped it maximize its chances.

“Ultimately, it is chemistry; everyone is so connected,” explained Blosser.

“There is no division whatsoever; everyone is so together. Everyone has worked for our goal, whether they are sitting on the bench or playing. We are all supportive of each other.”

Blosser and her classmates have played a key role in helping to develop that team unity.

“I think we have a strong senior class, we knew going into this year that if we didn’t win it, we would be upset,” said Blosser, who now has five goals this season and 14 in her Princeton career. “We came into this season knowing what we had to do and just getting everyone up to that level.”

Princeton head coach Julie Shackford credits her senior group with setting a winning tone this fall.

“It was a well-led team with eight seniors; they are the ones who put things in place for us to have a good season,” said Shackford.

“They did a great job with our team culture and with 28 kids, that is not always easy.”

In Shackford’s view, that culture helped the Tigers overcome hurdles on their way to a perfect league campaign.

“Any time in our sport, which is such an unforgiving game, to go 7-0 is really special,” said Shackford.

“We lost three or four starters throughout the year and I thought the team absorbed all of that. It seemed like when one went down, there was somebody else there to step in and do just as well. I just think that we have a bunch of kids that can finish that was the difference.”

In assessing what made the difference in the team’s winning streak, Shackford points to an early-season defeat.

“They all say, and maybe I agree, that it was the game against California Irvine,” said Shackford, referring to the team’s 2-1 loss to the Anteaters on September 16, the team’s last defeat.

“We spent most of the game defending with 10 players. Coming out of that trip, they really felt like they learned a lot about themselves. They were pretty confident going forward.”

Shackford, who has led the Tigers to seven previous NCAA trips including a run to the semifinals in 2004, is confident that her team can do well in the national tourney.

“We are excited about the prospects going forward,” said Shackford. “We are going to enjoy it.”

Blosser, for her part, believes Princeton could enjoy a deep tournament run.

“I think we can do some damage,” maintained Blosser. “We have the talent and we certainly have the mentality. We are a great team.”

TRIPPED UP: Princeton University sophomore running back Will Powers gets tripped up in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday against visiting Penn, Powers made a 30-yard touchdown catch and rushed for a team-high 39 yards but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 28-21. Princeton, now 4-4 overall and 3-2 Ivy League, will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Yale (2-6 overall, 1-4 Ivy) on November 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On paper, the Princeton University football team held a marked statistical edge as it hosted Penn last Saturday.

The Tigers were ranked second in the Ivy League in both scoring offense and scoring defense while the Quakers were sixth in the two key categories.

But Penn has shown a quality not measured in numbers, an ability to pull out close games. Penn had won nailbiters this fall against Dartmouth (28-21), Columbia (24-20), and Brown (20-17) to go 3-1 in Ivy League play, tied atop the league standings with Princeton and Harvard.

A revitalized Princeton team tried to give Penn a taste of its own medicine as it took a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter last Saturday before a hardy crowd of 7,494 in Princeton Stadium, braving chilly winds days after Hurricane Sandy had howled through the area.

The Quakers, though, followed their blueprint for success, producing late game heroics as they scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and then held off a late Princeton drive to escape with a 28-21 triumph and their sixth straight win in the rivalry.

A glum Princeton head coach Bob Surace didn’t hide his disappointment as he reflected on a game that got away from the Tigers, who committed four turnovers and made some critical mistakes on special teams.

“It is just frustrating; it is two weeks in a row where we had opportunities to close a game out and we didn’t do it,” said Surace, whose team had lost 37-35 to Cornell on October 27.

“That is the bottom line; there is no excuse for it. We have to learn to be a more disciplined team and to take better care of the ball.”

The team’s lack of discipline left Princeton’s league title hopes on life support as Harvard rolled past Columbia to join Penn at 4-1 in Ivy play with Princeton at 3-2 and only two games remaining in the season.

“I let them know that there is a likelihood that we are not going to reach our goals,” said Surace, recalling his postgame message to his squad after it fell to 4-4 overall despite outgaining Penn 444 yards to 307. “We lost the chance to control our own destiny with those things.”

Princeton junior defensive back Philip Bhaya, who made a key second quarter interception to set up a touchdown for the Tigers, echoed Surace’s sentiments.

“It is a real tough one to swallow; we haven’t had too much success the past couple of years,” said Bhaya.

“I think this one is especially tough because this team is definitely a special team. We have been really playing hard and together and with everything on the table for us after winning those games, it is really disappointing for us to come up short here.”

Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said his team had a “been there, done that” feeling when it headed into the fourth quarter locked in a tight contest.

“We don’t get rattled, we have been in so many close games,” said Bagnoli. “We have gotten an awful lot of practice in it and we have gotten a lot of confidence in our ability late to make some plays under duress. We have probably had six, seven, or eight games in the last two seasons that have come down to two-minute drives or come down to last plays.”

The Tigers showed their renewed confidence as they fought back all afternoon. After Penn jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Princeton cashed in Bhaya’s interception, marching 24 yards in a drive that culminated with Quinn Epperly’s three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Hayes to make it a 7-7 game midway through the second quarter.

On their next possession, the Tigers took the lead. Going 66 yards in eight plays, Princeton found paydirt as Connor Michelson hit Will Powers with a 30-yard scoring strike. The Tigers, though, botched the extra point and their lead stayed at 13-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Princeton made another special teams lapse as Eric Fiore raced 53 yards on the return. Taking advantage of the good field position, Penn marched 45 yards in a drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Billy Ragone to Ryan O’Malley. The Quakers converted the point after and took a 14-13 lead into halftime.

The Tigers regained momentum midway through the second quarter, producing a 73-yard scoring march. Michelson hit Roman Wilson with a 21-yard touchdown pass and then found Wilson in the end zone for a two-point conversion as the Tigers grabbed a 21-14 advantage.

Early in the fourth quarter, it looked like Princeton was on the verge of putting the game away as it marched to the Penn 23-yard line. But a Michelson pass was picked off in the end zone by former WW/P-S star Dave Twamley.

Minutes later, Michelson was picked off again with C.J. Mooney snagging a batted pass out of the air and racing 15 yards for a touchdown as Penn tied the game at 21-21.

After Princeton went three-and-out on its next possession, Penn took the lead 28-21 as Ragone ran three yards for a TD to culminate a 10-play, 53-yard drive.

The Tigers, though, didn’t fold as Michelson hit several big passes to get Princeton to the Penn six in the waning moments of the contest. But committing the final turnover of the day, Michelson lost the ball after getting sacked and Penn ran out the clock.

With Princeton playing at Yale (2-6 overall, 1-4 Ivy) on Saturday in the latest chapter of the storied rivalry between the schools, Surace believes his team will put the disappointment of the Penn game in the rear view mirror and summon up a big effort.

“I felt our guys played hard today; we made some unfortunate errors and it has got to get corrected,” said Surace.

“I think that we will get them ready; Yale is obviously another big game. Our coaches will come in competing and battling and our seniors will set an example that way and follow the coaches’ lead.”

GOOD RUN: Princeton University field hockey player Molly Goodman, left, holds her ground in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday against visiting Penn, senior Goodman and classmates Katie Reinprecht, Kat Sharkey, Amy Donovan, and Charlotte Krause went out with a bang in their final home appearance as the Tigers prevailed 7-0. The win lifted No. 2 Princeton to 16-1 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, giving the program its eighth straight league title. The Tigers will start their drive for another crown as they compete in the NCAA tournament. Princeton is slated to play at No. 12 Lafayette on November 6 in a play-in game with the first and second round games to take place this weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the the second-ranked Princeton University field hockey team, its 7-0 win over visiting Penn last Saturday marked the final step in its cakewalk to the Ivy League title.

In producing a 7-0 league mark and winning the program’s eighth straight crown, the Tigers outscored their Ivy foes by a total of 45-1 this fall.

While the lopsided nature of the wins gave the title an anticlimactic feel, Tiger head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn admired how her players handled their Ivy business.

“It means everything to win the league outright; our path to the NCAA tournament is through the league,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team improved to 16-1 overall with the victory.

“We know that we can’t mess up in the league and the players recognize that. We don’t take any moment for granted; we look at each game as an opportunity to get better. We didn’t want to concede a goal; we want to play as clean as we can on both sides of the ball.”

In the game on Saturday, the program got to honor its decorated group of seniors which includes Katie Reinprecht, Kat Sharkey, Amy Donovan, Molly Goodman, and Charlotte Krause.

“They really, really have been such an outstanding group of young women,” asserted Holmes-Winn.

“They have been great leaders on and off the field; I can’t do justice to them in a few words. They have been so special and selfless; they have had to redefine their role. They have done that in a graceful way and have helped propel the team.”

Sharkey rose to the occasion in her final appearance at Bedford Field, scoring four goals to increase her season total to 29.

“Sharkey did what she does best but she will tell you that she has one of the best, if not the best, midfield in the country behind her, helping to feed her the ball,” said Holmes-Winn, who also got three goals from sophomore star Allison Evans in the victory over the Quakers.

“All the strikers have benefitted; the midfield is really combining with the front of the field.”

Now the Tigers will get the chance to prove they are the best team in the country as they compete in the NCAA tournament. Princeton is slated to play at No. 12 Lafayette on November 6 in a play-in game with the first and second round games to take place this weekend.

“I think we are in a great spot on both sides of the ball; we have been achieving fluidity,” said Holmes-Winn, reflecting on her team’s NCAA prospects.

“We are getting players opportunities for space and time; creating spaces in the front that have troubled the top teams. We need to trust what we do and be ready to bring it.”

Princeton will be bringing it in the game against Patriot League champion Lafayette (16-1 overall, 6-0 Patriot) even though its spot in the tourney’s main draw is assured by its ranking and wins over such national powers Maryland, Duke, Wake Forest, Connecticut, Penn State, and Virginia.

“I think they have the lowest goals against average in the country; they are accustomed to winning,” said Holmes-Winn of the Leopards.

“They are No. 10 in the RPI; they are really good. Our team feels fortunate to play a team of that caliber in the play-in game. They are really pumped to play and looking at it as a win-win situation. It is an opportunity to go out against a quality opponent and get sharp for Saturday. We will throw everything at them like it is a first-round game.”

FOUR-SIGHT: Princeton University women’s basketball star Niveen Rasheed heads up the court in action last season. Senior forward Rasheed, the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2011-12, will be looking to end her stellar career by leading Princeton to a fourth straight league title. The Tigers tip off the upcoming season when they play at St. Joseph’s on November 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Edwards and Devona Allgood were two of the key building blocks for a Princeton University women’s basketball program that has dominated the Ivy League over the last three winters.

The 6’3 Allgood controlled the paint, scoring 1,177 points and grabbing 802 rebounds in her career while the rangy 6’0 Edwards tallied 1,319 points and 152 three-pointers as the Tigers won three straight league titles, going 41-1 in Ivy play over that span.

The exit of the two stars to graduation this past June would seem to signal a rebuilding season for the Tigers, whose 2011-12 campaign ended with a tough 67-64 loss to Kansas State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

But with the return of senior forward Niveen Rasheed, last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year who has 1,134 career points, and classmate Lauren Polansky, the two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, Princeton is in good shape to make a run for a fourth straight league crown.

Coming off a season that saw the Tigers go 24-5 overall and 14-0 Ivy, becoming the first league team to be ranked in the Top 25 nationally at No. 24, Princeton was recently picked first in the 2012-13 Ivy Preseason Media Poll.

While Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is proud to have transformed her program into a force, she isn’t focusing on preseason accolades as she looks ahead to opening the 2012-13 season with a game at St. Joseph’s on November 11.

“As is always the case, it doesn’t matter where you start in the poll, it matters where you end up,” said Banghart, who is bringing a 95-50 overall record into her sixth year at the helm, having gone 74-13 the last three seasons.

“That said, I’m really proud of this Tiger program as we’ve worked tirelessly in the offseason and as a unit to continually earn the target on our back. This group has both pride and humility. We appreciate the respect, but we are driven by how far we still have to go to reach our lofty goals. It’s one day at a time for this team.”

Senior co-captain Rasheed, a 6’0 native of Danville, Calif., has proven to be one of the most driven players in Ivy history, starting from the moment she took the court for Princeton in 2009. Even though she was coming off a sophomore season  that ended early due to an ACL injury, Rasheed was at full speed from the opening tip last winter, averaging 16.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.

Her classmate and co-captain Polansky has proven to be one of the most valuable point guards in recent Ivy history. The 5’8 Polansky, a resident of Mill Valley, Calif., has piled up 227 assists, 299 rebounds, and 161 steals in her Tiger career.

The Tigers also welcome back 6‘0 senior starter Kate Miller (5.9 points, 3.2 rebounds a game in 2011-12) and key reserves, 5’11 junior Nicole Hung (7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) and 6‘3 senior Megan Bowen (6.0 points, 3.1 rebounds).

The freshman class should give the Tigers depth and height with the quintet of Taylor Williams (6’3), Alex Wheatley (6’2), Annie Tarakchian (6’0), Michelle Miller (5’10), and Amanda Bernsten (5’8).

Banghart won’t have to wait long to see if the team has what it takes to compete for its lofty goals as it faces NCAA tournament teams Marist, Rutgers, and UCLA in November action.

TITLE DRIVE: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer drives to the hoop in a game last winter. Senior standout Hummer, who passed the 1,000-point mark last season, will be looking to end his stellar career on a high note as the Tigers have their sights set on retaining the Ivy League crown. Princeton tips off its 2012-13 season by playing at Buffalo on November 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mitch Henderson isn’t coy in setting forth what he hopes to see from his Princeton University men’s basketball team this winter.

“The expectation is that we are supposed to win the league,” said Princeton head coach Henderson, who guided the Tigers to a 20-12 overall record and 10-4 in Ivy League play last winter in his debut season as the team finished third in the league and went on to make the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.

“Every single year, we want to make sure that we are contending for the title. I think that the group that you are seeing right now really wants that shot. They know that it is about hard work on the floor and getting better so we define ourselves by those things everyday. Are we getting better, are we improving, are we making each other better, are we unselfish. Those guys are really taking those qualities to heart.”

With Princeton slated to tip off the 2012-13 season by playing at Buffalo on November 10, the Tigers are depending on getting some quality work from their trio of seniors, Ian Hummer (16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 2011-12), Brendan Connolly (5.7 points, 3.6 rebounds), and Mack Darrow (7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds).

“I know that Ian gets a lot of attention but he has made strides,” said Henderson of the 6’7, 225-pound Hummer, a two-time All-Ivy performer who comes into the season with 1,170 career points.

“He has really taken a role as a leader and he put in time in the weight room. He looks like he is ready to go; the same thing with Brendan Connolly. The seniors are doing what they are supposed to do, which is leading by example.”

The Tigers, who were chosen No. 1 in the 2012-13 Ivy Preseason Media Poll and got in some extra work this summer during a 10-day journey to Spain where they played four games against professional teams, are expecting junior forward Will Barrett to assume a larger role.

“Will wasn’t with us last year,” said Henderson of the 6’8, 197-pound Barrett. “He spent a year off working on and off the floor. He really made a lot of improvements. In Spain, he was a huge addition for us; he led us in rebounding. I think Will has made huge strides personally, both on and off the floor.”

Junior guard T.J. Bray, who made big strides last year when he averaged 7.2 points a game and had a team-high 119 assists, is currently bouncing back from injury.

“T.J. is going to be ready to go, we have been working him back into the live stuff,” said Henderson.

“He will be fine; like any really competitive guy, he is just chomping at the bit here to get going but we have got some time. I think you will see him early and we are building towards him being full speed by mid-November.”

As Bray gets up to speed, Henderson is trying some different options at guard as the Tigers look to fill the void left by the graduated Douglas Davis, the former Hun School star who ended his Princeton career with 1,550 points, the second most in program history.

“I like what we are seeing out of Chris Clement (0.5 points and 0.5 rebounds last year) and Denton Koon (5.1 points, 3.1 rebounds),” asserted Henderson.

“We are really asking those two guys to do something that is a little unique; they are both playing in the backcourt for the first time.”

In Henderson’s view, his trio of freshmen, 6‘3 guard Mike Washington, Jr., 6’ 8 forward Hans Brase, and 7’1 center Edo Lawrence, could do some good things this winter.

“Mike is a shooter; he is athletic and he is a bigger guard,” said Henderson. “He has a long way to go in understanding how hard you have you play in college. I really like where Mike is at the moment. I feel comfortable with the guys that are in front of him too so I think Mike is going to have his work cut out for him but he is ready for that challenge. Hans Brase is really playing well. I think Hans is going to help us immediately, especially on the boards. Edo Lawrence is playing behind two senior centers and a sophomore center but again he is another guy who has really worked hard on just improving his habits here. I really like the look of the class as it adds to the rest of the group.”

The Tigers will get exposed to some different looks in a non-conference slate that includes such formidable foes as Rutgers, Syracuse, Kent State, Drexel, Rider, and Bucknell.

“I think it is a very challenging schedule for us; each of those teams are a little bit different,” said Henderson.

“We have teams that are perimeter-oriented and then teams who have a really good big guy like Bucknell. It is a challenge and that’s what we want. We want to be playing our best basketball in January.”