November 8, 2017

PU Field Hockey Completes 7-0 Ivy Campaign, Headed to Virginia for NCAA Tournament Clash

RYAN’S HOPE: Princeton University field hockey player Ryan McCarthy races up the field in a game earlier this season. Senior star McCarthy has enjoyed a big final campaign for the Tigers, scoring a team-high 15 goals as Princeton went 7-0 in Ivy League play, earning the program’s 25th league crown. The 14th-ranked Tigers, now 11-6 overall, will look to extend their season as they play at No. 4 Virginia (15-4) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on November 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Starting the season by going 1-4 against a gauntlet of Top-25 foes ended up paying dividends for the Princeton University field hockey team.

After edging No. 10 Maryland 2-1 on September 19, the Tigers caught fire, suffering only two more losses over the rest of the regular season and going 7-0 in Ivy League play, earning the program’s 25th league crown.

In the view of Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente, running the table in league play is a source of deep pride for the program.

“It is a great accomplishment; it is very difficult to do these days, no matter what conference you are in,” said Tagliente, reflecting on her team’s perfect league campaign which has lifted the Tigers to an 11-6 overall record.

“It is a testament to the players. The first six-to-seven games are a tough stretch. For them to dial in and continue to focus on the process and each game at hand, it speaks volumes. They learned from the hard moments and losses and moved forward and got better from it.”

Now the 14th-ranked Tigers will get to apply those lessons in the NCAA tournament as they will be heading south to face No. 4 Virginia on November 11 in a first round game.

The game marks a rematch of a dramatic NCAA quarterfinal clash last season between the two teams which saw Princeton pull out a 3-2 win over Virginia on a last-second goal by Sophia Tornetta as the Tigers advanced to the national semis for the seventh time in program history.

Tagliente knows that the Cavaliers will have revenge on their minds in the wake of the 2016 thriller.

“They may be hanging onto it,” said Tagliente. “I think the dramatic end of that left some scars for them but it is a new season and a different group of players.”

Virginia boasts a number of standout players, led by Tara Vittese (24 goals and 14 assists) and Pien Dicke (21 goals, 6 assists).

“I think it will be a great game,” said Tagliente, whose squad has sharpened up its penalty corner play at both ends of the field and boasts a balanced attack led by senior Ryan McCarthy (15 goals, 2 assists) along with a pair of freshmen Clara Roth (6 goals, 11 assists) and Julianna Tornetta (5 goals, 13 assists).

“They are a very good team this year with some very strong individual players. I think it has been shown that they can get rattled if you get up on them early but at the same time they can score very quickly.”

Tagliente, for her part, believes that getting off to a quick start will be critical to Princeton’s chances of topping Virginia and advancing to the second round a day later against the winner of the other opening round game at the site that pits North Carolina against St. Joseph’s.

“It is really important that we get up on the board early in this game,” said Tagliente.

“Their attack penalty corners are super strong, they are going to get their fair share of opportunities. We need to mitigate how dangerous those opportunities are. If we can get up early in the game, we can put a few in and go from there. Containing some of their individual talent will be key. There are pros and cons when you have that much individual talent on a team. If you can defuse those danger spots, you can do a good job.”

Being the underdog in the clash with the ACC power suits Princeton.

“At this point of the season, there are really no expectations on us,” said Tagliente.

“We are playing with house money at this point, not that we shouldn’t be here. There is no pressure; it is just go out and have a good time, enjoy it, and be in the moment. All the pressure is on them. They are expected to win, they are the  ACC champions.”

The Tigers thrive when they stay in the present. “It is one game at a time for us right now and just enjoy the moment; that is one thing that we do very well with this group right now,” said Tagliente.

In Tagliente’s view, Princeton is playing some very good hockey right now.

“Penn was a little bit of a hiccup for us, that was a challenging game,” said Tagliente, referring to Princeton’s 2-1 win over the Quakers last Saturday in the regular season finale.

“Up until that point we have been trending upward. I like what I see out of our team in practice. I think we were a little fatigued for some reason going into the Penn game, the midterms had been over. It was the aftermath of everyone trying to catch their breath.”