November 21, 2018

PU Field Hockey Produces Fierce Defensive Effort But Loses 1-0 to Maryland in OT at NCAA Semis

OVER AND OUT: Princeton University field hockey player Elise Wong tracks a ball in a game this season. Senior defender Wong starred in a losing cause as third-seeded Princeton fell 1-0 in overtime to second-seeded Maryland in the NCAA semifinals. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 15-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Hosting Maryland in mid-September, the Princeton University field hockey team couldn’t hold the fort as the high-powered Terps rallied from a 4-1 deficit to pull out a 5-4 win in overtime.

When the foes met against last Friday in the NCAA semifinals in Louisville, Ky., Tiger senior defender Elise Wong was confident that Princeton could contain the Terps.

“We wanted to get a lot more pressure on the ball; our pressure is very strong and that is something we really wanted to capitalize on,” said Wong.

“We got excited about pressing their defenders and midfielders. On top of that, since we played Maryland the first time, we have really bolstered up our defensive tactics and practiced a lot in the defensive 25.”

Displaying that bolstered defense, Princeton held Maryland to a scoreless stalemate through regulation and 7:54 of overtime before the Terps tallied to earn a 1-0 victory.

“If you look at the stats, that is really telling as to how hard we were pushing for this game and how many chances we had on goal,” said Wong, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton build a 9-2 edge in penalty corners.

“When you have stats like that, it is a little bit heartbreaking that none of them went in and we didn’t capitalize on them.”

While it was a heartbreaking ending for Princeton, who finished 2018 with a 15-5 record, Wong was proud of how the Tigers bonded this fall.

“The thing that will stand out the most looking back at the season will be the team itself,” said Wong.

“This is the best team, not just technically and as players, but our team culture and the family that we built is the strongest during my time here.”

As one of the squad’s senior stalwarts, Wong took a major role in fostering that culture.

“We had a really strong leadership group, not just our captains, but the rest of the seniors and the upperclassmen who stepped up to lead this team in a positive manner,” said Wong.

Wong enjoyed a positive senior year, making first-team All-Ivy League and getting named as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

“I am really grateful for the honor; I have been improving as the years go on,” said Wong, a 5’2 native of Lake Forest, Ill.

“I have become more confident and comfortable playing in the middle and being a leader in the middle through the way I play. I think that has made a difference.”

Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente was confident that her team could overcome the Terps in the NCAA rematch.

“We felt we could press them harder and cause a little bit more disruption and we did,” said Tagliente

“It doesn’t open the game up as much for us with our counters, but I thought we still had adequate opportunities to score.”

Tagliente credited her players with making things tough on Maryland. “I think with the game plan and what we were trying to do coming in, you couldn’t really ask any more,” said Tagliente.

“We executed everything. If you said we would hold them to one shot in regulation and two corners, I would say that we would win the game 3-0. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way.”

The Tigers put in some good work over the regular season, notching some victories over Top-20 teams that helped steel them for their NCAA run

“We had some big wins early in that gave us great momentum with those wins over Wake Forest (4-0 on September 2), Penn State (2-1 in overtime on September 4), and Duke (3-2 on September 7),” said Tagliente, whose team also topped No. 3 UConn 5-2 on October 7.

“Getting wins in those games would just put us in a much different position, psychologically as well, and got us off on the right foot. We want to win national championships; in order to win those you have to be in the Final Four. In order to be in the Final Four consistently, we need to have a level of consistency in our play and I think we are heading in that direction.”

In Tagliente’s view, the team’s group of seniors Nicole Catalino, Jane Donio Enscoe, Annabeth Donovan, Sarah Holland, Casey Swezey, Sophia Tornetta, and Wong are leaving a special legacy.

“That is really a substantial body of work for them, and something they should be proud of,” said Tagliente, noting that program’s Class of 2019 made two NCAA Final Four and two quarterfinal appearances.

“It is a really talented group; we are are obviously going to miss them but outside of what they all bring to the table on the field. It is really a step forward for us for leadership and setting an example for the younger players.”

Tagliente believes the Tigers can keep moving forward. “There is potential there, we have a good core group returning,” said Tagliente, who welcomes back such All-Ivy performers as Maddie Bacskai, Mary Kate Neff, Julianna Tornetta, Hannah Davey, Clara Roth, and Grace Baylis.

“We are graduating good players but we had a lot of depth this year with players sitting on the bench who could play. We have an incredible freshman class coming in. I am going to have the same problem I had this year with who plays and who doesn’t play and how much time. It is good problem to have.”

Wong, for her part, had a great time playing for the Tigers over the last four years. “Undoubtedly being with Princeton field hockey has been one of the greatest parts of being at Princeton,” said Wong, who has joined the Canadian national program and will be touring with its senior team in January.

“It is a family that you have forever now. These are women who I am connected to forever and will be my lifelong friends. We have all of these great experiences, the ups and the downs, the preseasons, the wins and the losses, and we can come back to all of it.”