After Losing 2020 Campaign to COVID Concerns, PU Women’s Soccer Primed to Kick Off Fall Season
RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Princeton University women’s soccer player Lucy Rickerson controls the ball in a 2019 game. Senior defender Rickerson and the Tigers return to action after their 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns by hosting Loyola (Md.) on August 27 at Class of 1952 Stadium. The Tigers last played a game on November 9, 2019 when they posted a 1-0 win at Penn. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
For Sean Driscoll, seeing his Princeton University women’s soccer team take the pitch at Class of 1952 Stadium this Friday evening for its 2021 season opener will be a dream come true.
With the 2020 season having been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Princeton head coach Driscoll has been looking forward to the opening day matchup against Loyola (Md.) for months.
“It has been 20 some odd months and I am just imagining what that is going to feel like when you haven’t had it in so long,” said Driscoll, whose team last played on November 9, 2019 when it posted a 1-0 win at Penn to finish that season with an 8-6-3 record.
“You take things for granted. You have a game, you have a national anthem and it is oh my gosh I missed it. I can’t wait to see what it feels like again — the nerves that go into it and the passion that is exuded as a result. I am ready for that, I am chomping at the bit to be on the sidelines with a team of kids I am really proud to coach and represent a university I am privileged to be a part of.”
With preseason training having started on August 17, the players are displaying a passion for togetherness.
“I think everybody is just more appreciative of one another,” said Driscoll, whose squad will have a busy weekend as it hosts Saint Joseph’s on Sunday morning in addition to the Loyola contest.
“The connections that people are making are great; people are investing a little more in each other. They are having conversations and getting to know each other better. From my vantage point, it seems to be a really good dynamic among the players, different players hanging out with different players on each day. Everyone branching out and getting to know each other better. I think the mood has been exceptional. They are really happy to be out there and playing with each other. You take something away from people, and as they say, you don’t know how much you love something until it is gone. That adage is true.”
As Princeton girds for opening weekend, its focus is more on itself than its two foes.
“We have been out of this for a while and we have got to get back to playing and just really try to focus on what we need to be doing to get better,” said Driscoll, noting that most Division I women’s soccer programs were able to have a season this past spring.
“We have a lot of areas that we need to improve upon, but I am really excited about what I have seen so far. It is more about how we taking care of ourselves to prepare better for the next week and so on. If you think about it, we are almost a full year behind other teams. So worrying about them and what they do is a little less of my concern than worrying about how we can maximize what we are trying to do is the real focus.”
While the Tigers may be behind other teams, Driscoll is fortunate to have plenty of talent at his disposal to deploy.
“We are still trying to sort through it all, we are not 100 percent certain on the formation,” said Driscoll, whose team did have limited spring training with about 15 players participating.
“I always say our strength is our depth. This year is another one of those teams where there is competition at every single position and that is great. We have a lot of depth in the back, we have got a lot of depth in the midfield, we have got a lot of depth up front so we are trying to figure things out. It is unlike other years where you had the bulk of your team to train with in the spring and continue to move forward. Now half of the team is new.”
The forward unit features plenty of depth in senior Gabi Juarez (1 goal, 2 assists in 2019), senior Tatum Gee (2 goals, 3 assists), senior Amy Paternoster (1 goal, 1 assist), junior Kamryn Loustau (1 goal), sophomore Jen Estes, freshman Heather MacNab, and freshman Lexi Hiltunen.
“There are probably nine or 10 kids in competition that we are looking at,” said Driscoll.
“It is going to be very different in a week or so, we are looking at all of these kids.”
It is a similar situation in the midfield as that group includes senior Emma Davis, senior Caroline Noonan (2 goals), junior Grace Sherman (4 goals, 2 assists), junior Marissa Hart (1 goal, 3 assists), senior Olivia Kane (2 goals, 2 assists), sophomore Aria Nagai, and a quartet of freshmen in Lily Bryant, Ella Midura, Kayleen Gowers, and Kate Toomey.
“There is a lot of depth there and a lot of freshmen,” added Driscoll.
Driscoll is looking at senior Lucy Rickerson and junior Madison Curry to spearhead the Tiger defense.
“They are both very, very good, they both are big-time,” said Driscoll of Rickerson and Curry, noting that junior Morgan Wiese, senior Aza Keohan, junior Gracyn Kuerner, freshman Kiley Hamou, and freshman Ryann Brown could also see time on the back line.
At goalie, Princeton has three good options in senior Grace Barbara (2-0 with a 0.00 goals against average and six saves in 2019), a former Princeton Day School standout, along with junior Ella Gantman and freshman Tyler McCamey.
“That is a good battle, we have got a good group of kids,” said Driscoll.
“It is a good competition. They are pushing each other really well, they are all doing well.”
In Driscoll’s view, the keys to success for the Tigers this fall will center on the players pushing each other and being sharper around goal.
“It is everybody embracing whatever role they are placed in, whether you are a starter or someone coming in off the bench to give us some energy and a lift,” said Driscoll.
“It is going to be essential because they are a lot of good players. Figuring out who is going to put the ball in the back of the net is an important piece. I think we defend well and we are good at retaining the ball in midfield. It is the final piece and how good we can be in that final third. It was our Achilles’ heel in 2019. We need to make sure that we find creative ways to get goals. We have a lot of people who can score. It is who is going to step up in that moment. It is going to be goal by committee, that is my guess, because we have a lot of good attacking players.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Driscoll wants his team to enjoy the moment without being carried away.
“We are going to have to manage our emotions because they will be chomping at the bit to play,” said Driscoll.
“I think it is really going to be about how we manage that excitement and funnel it into a proper direction.”
The matchups with Loyola and Saint Joseph’s figure to both be exciting.
“They are both well-coached teams, both teams are going to give us fits,” said Driscoll.
“They will be good games. Trust me when I say this, I take zero for granted when it comes to getting on a field and trying to get a result. It will take everything we have and I think managing the emotion of the games and managing a very quick turnaround.”
But no matter the result, Driscoll will be living out a dream when he sees his squad take the pitch.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be on the sideline with these kids again and be a part of the Princeton family once again,” said Driscoll.
“We hope that the student body and the community come out and support these kids. A lot of them lost a year of their ability to play and represent this institution. It is that much more meaningful if people show.”