Erin McMunn’s senior season with Princeton University women’s lacrosse team nearly ended prematurely when her right leg was banged hard against Harvard in late March.
The star attacker left the game with a strained MCL and bone bruise in her right knee. After being sidelined for the next game and undergoing some furious rehab, McMunn was able to make it back to the field, albeit at less than full speed.
Hobbling through the next few games, McMunn managed to break the program’s career record for assists and pass the 200-point mark as Princeton rolled to a league crown.
So last Saturday, McMunn was particularly emotional as she was honored along with her classmates on the program’s annual Senior Day before its regular season finale against visiting Brown.
“This has just been four years of incredible experience with this program and we are so grateful for everything that Princeton has given all of us as a senior class,” said McMunn, a 5’8 native of Westminster, Md.
“I think we just really wanted to come out here and make a statement today and play for each other and play because we love being part of this team.”
Making a statement with her play, McMunn scored three goals in the first 21 minutes of the contest as Princeton jumped out to 7-3 halftime lead.
“I realize how fortunate I am to have so many great people surrounding me, teammates, coaches, and staff,” said McMunn.
“I think I just really felt that on the field today. I play best when I feel that gratitude and feel that love a little bit. We certainly felt that today and I think we were all giving it to each other. There were just some really great feeds that people were hitting me on and I got lucky to put them away.”
The Tigers went on to 14-8 win as they ended the regular season at 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy. The Tigers will now host Harvard on Friday evening in an Ivy tournament semifinal contest with the winner advancing to the final on Sunday against the victor of the Penn-Cornell semi.
“We just really wanted to finish that Ivy season and leave no doubt that we deserve that title today,” said McMunn, who ended the day with five goals and an assist.
“There have been a ton of close games and I am just so proud of this team. This has been our goal since last year. We knew that we wanted to win this title outright because none of us as seniors have done that. We shared it last year and we knew that was not something we wanted to do this year. Being able to have the opportunity to win that outright on our Senior Day at home was huge and something we were all really excited for.”
McMunn is excited to be getting back up to full speed. “It is definitely starting to come back, it was a little tough there for a little while,” said McMunn.
“It was just causing some swelling that was keeping it a little bit tight. It has been feeling really great and I can’t thank our athletic trainers enough, they have been doing an awesome job taking care of me. I have just been really lucky to be back out there and having a lot of fun.”
In assessing her career milestones, McMunn credits the backing she has gotten from her teammates.
“That is the complete reflection of the people that are around me,” said McMunn, a three-time All-Ivy choice and a two-time All-American who now has 22 goals and 13 assists this season giving her 209 career points on 124 goals and a program-best 85 assists.
“The assist record is them; if they don’t bury that shot, it doesn’t matter. I could throw it at somebody all day long and they could miss shots.”
McMunn acknowledges that she is going to miss playing for Princeton. “It is very bittersweet but all you can really do is live in the moment and be grateful for the time I have been given here and with the program,” said McMunn. “I feel that every single day.”
Princeton head coach Chris Sailer is grateful for all that the team’s seniors have given to the program over the years.
“They have just been such a great class, they are just really quality kids,” said Sailer of the Class of 2015 which includes Erin Curley, Erika Grabbi, Jess Nelson, Erin Slifer, and Annie Woehling in addition to McMunn.
“This year we just have two (McMunn and Slifer) in our starting lineup but all six of them have given so much. They have worked so hard, they have been really great examples of selfless leadership and putting the team first and continuing to work and doing whatever they can to help our program improve. When you have kids like that, that are setting such great examples and bringing great energy, it can’t help but rub off on the rest of the group. They know how much it means to them and how they have sacrificed for it.”
Sailer was thrilled with McMunn’s great performance on Saturday. “That was great, I think this was her breakout game,” asserted Sailer. “She is moving much, much better. She seems like she is moving like her old self before her injury and that is going to be really helpful as we get to the tournament to have her functioning at top capacity.”
Princeton’s top player this spring has been Slifer, who has a team-high 55 points on 36 goals and 19 assists and also leads the team in ground balls with 22.
“She has been our force, having an impact in all phases of the game,” said Sailer of Slifer.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she is one of the top players in the country and her impact on us has been very obvious to anyone who watches our games.”
Going undefeated in the league this spring has taken a huge effort in all phases of the game.
“It is great, there is a lot of parity and every team gets up and tries to bring their best against you,” said Sailer.
“I think we have only had an undefeated Ivy champion now five times at Princeton so it is really special. It is a hard league to win undefeated. I am just really happy for these girls because they really put a lot into this year. It is nice to come through with a young team. We graduated eight seniors we start six sophomores so it is exciting.”
Sailer is excited about Princeton’s postseason prospects, starting with the Ivy tournament this weekend.
“I think we just have to keep doing what we are doing and really just keep the emphasis on our preparation and our work,” said Sailer.
“You can’t get thinking, you have got to win this tournament. You have got to win the ground balls, win the draws, and take a smart shot. It is a whole new ball game, everybody is 0-0 so it doesn’t matter what has happened before. We know that and we are just going to get to work on Monday.”
The Tigers will have to work hard to overcome a tough Harvard (8-7 overall, 4-3 Ivy) squad.
“Harvard is a very, very good team, they lost by one goal to Syracuse and it was a tight game here,” said Sailer, whose team beat the Crimson 17-12 in the rivals’ regular season meeting on March 21.
“We pulled away at the end, but they are talented kids, there is no doubt. They have a lot of speed, they check very aggressively, they go to goal hard. We are going to have to be ready, that is for sure.”
McMunn, for her part, is ready for a big postseason run. “The key is that we have to keep getting better every single day and I think that is something this team has done a great job of focusing on so far this year,” said McMunn.
“We feel that sense of urgency and we don’t want to waste any time out there together. I think that is something that we have to keep going for the last week; we’ll be good.”