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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

CAGED: Two Virginia defenders swoop in on Princeton junior attacker Lindsey Biles in the Tigers' 10-4 loss to the Cavaliers last Sunday in the NCAA championship game at Princeton Stadium. Biles scored one goal in the defeat to push her season total to 55, just one short of Cristi Samaras' program record of 56.
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Third Time Not a Charm as Princeton Women's Lax Falls to Virginia 10-4 in NCAA Championship Game

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University women's lacrosse team steamrollered through its opponents this spring on its seemingly inexorable march to a third straight national crown, the club utilized its pinpoint shooting to put away one victim after another.

Coming into the NCAA championship game last Sunday at Princeton Stadium against Virginia, the Tigers had compiled a shooting percentage of .422 compared to their opponents' .310 in producing their unblemished 19-0 record and setting a program-record winning streak of 28.

Buoyed by a vocal crowd of 4,922 undeterred by the 90 degree temperatures, the two-time defending national champion Tigers put the heat on the Cavaliers early Sunday as they controlled possession and fired a barrage of shots at the Virginia goal.

At the worst possible time, however, top-ranked Princeton became the gang that couldn't shoot straight as shot after shot went wide of the mark. Virginia goalie Andrea Pfeiffer ably handled the shots that were on the cage as she gradually caught fire in the sweltering afternoon.

After weathering a Princeton storm which saw only an Elizabeth Pillion drive find the back of the net, Virginia went on a 5-0 run over the last 10:32 of the first half to build a 5-1 halftime lead. The Cavs never looked back as they cruised to a 10-4 win, gaining a measure of revenge for having fallen to Princeton 8-7 in overtime a year ago in the NCAA title game.

The Tigers outshot Virginia 35-24 on the day but the combination of Pfeiffer's 19 saves and four goals from Amy Appelt proved to be the difference as the Cavs improved to 19-3 and took their first national title since 1991.

One the Tigers' key snipers, junior attacker Lindsey Biles, acknowledged that she and her teammates couldn't find a rhythm against No. 2 Virginia whom they had beaten 12-9 on March 14.

"Their doubling was a lot faster today but we were prepared for that," said Biles, who had one goal in the title game, thereby pushing her season total to 55, just one short of Cristi Samaras' program record of 56.

"I think in the beginning when we weren't finishing, we got a little frustrated and lost our patience. Their goalie played a great game. We started becoming very individualistic because we weren't making the plays."

A red-eyed Princeton head coach Chris Sailer concurred with Biles' analysis. "I think the game for us really came down to our inability to put the ball in the net," said Sailer, whose voice cracked with emotion during the post-game press conference.

"Their keeper played very well. We didn't put some away early and that could've made it a very different game. We had 35 shots today and four goals, that's not a typical day for us. We didn't get any runs, we're normally a team that gets runs at some point in the game."

Virginia head coach Julie Myers said her team came into Sunday primed to slow down the Tigers. "We did a much better job of preparing our team for the looks that Princeton was going to try to create," said Myers, whose club had fallen short in its previous four appearances in the NCAA title game during her nine-year tenure at Virginia.

"We came up with some defensive solutions for some of their moves and some of their plays. Andrea knew where their shooters were going to shoot. It was one of those days when the lacrosse ball must have looked huge to Andrea, because she made it look incredibly easy but yet made some fantastic saves."

While the disappointment of the loss was etched on her face, Sailer was able to put her club's memorable spring into perspective.

"We talk all year about the journey," said Sailer, who has guided the Tigers to three national crowns in her 17-year tenure. "It would've been great to get a different destination. It's been a great year, we've had a lot of success. Unfortunately, it just didn't go our way today."

One factor that was crucial to the team's success was its senior leadership. "We had a fantastic senior class," asserted Sailer, whose group of seniors included co-captains and All-Americans Theresa Sherry and Katie Norbury together with Tara Hardiman, Liza Hillenbrand, Mary Beth Hogan, and Katie Yakulis.

"Every kid in that class had her best year. You couldn't ask for anything more from them as leaders. Our junior class has big shoes to fill next year in taking over for these kids."

Biles, for her part, maintains that the frustration from Sunday's defeat will help spur her to better meet that challenge. "It's a terrible feeling and I don't want it again," said Biles quietly. "It was a phenomenal season, we really came together as a team early on. We had incredible teamwork, it just kind of fell apart today."

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