Former PDS Star Goalkeeper Barbara Shows Grit As PU Women’s Soccer Edges Loyola 2-1 in Opener
HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE: Princeton University women’s soccer goalie Grace Barbara handles the ball last Friday night as Princeton defeated Loyola (Md.) 2-1 in its season opener and first game since 2019 after last season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Senior Barbara, a former Princeton Day School standout, made one save in the win. Two days later, Barbara combined with freshman Tyler McCamey to post a shutout as the Tigers defeated Saint Joseph’s 3-0 with each goalie playing a half. In upcoming action, Princeton plays at George Mason (0-4) on September 2 and at 11th-ranked Georgetown (1-0-1) on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As Grace Barbara started at goalie for the Princeton University women’s soccer team last Friday night in its first game since 2019, she just had to look to her right wrist to see the theme of the evening.
The word “grit” was scrawled in black ink on the tape around her wrist and it characterized the effort that senior Barbara, a former Princeton Day School standout, made to help Princeton pull out a 2-1 win over Loyola (Md.) in its first action after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I definitely didn’t play my best game tonight but I think that is to be expected coming off of so long of not competing at Princeton,” said Barbara.
“But I am ready to build every day and get better every single day. That is really my mentality here. I actually came in at a deficit. I wasn’t able to train with the team for the first couple of days. I had COVID earlier in the month and had to go through a return-to-play protocol. I had a really short preseason and was working really, really hard to get the starting spot here.”
Princeton had to show some grit collectively as it built a 2-0 lead only to see the Greyhounds score on a penalty kick with 9:18 left in the second half, making the final minutes of the contest a bit edgy for the Tigers.
“It definitely was a dicey win but a win is a win and that is what we have to say,” said Barbara, who had one save on the evening.
“This team, Loyola, has already had two games under their belt. They came in off of a pretty harsh loss (4-0) to Clemson and they were just ready to play. We saw that, they were scrappy to the end. It really taught us about how we can respond in a situation where we conceded a goal. Our mantra is grit this year and we showed exactly that. We really stepped up.”
Barbara was ready to step up this fall, having waited her turn to start after playing in two games for Princeton as a freshman in 2018 and then making three appearances as a sophomore.
“I really wish junior season would have been able to happen of course but COVID 19 came around so that just forced me to be even more patient,” said Barbara.
“It is my senior year, I am confident in my ability but I am also confident in the other two goalkeepers [Ella Gantman and Tyler McCamey] that we have here. We are a really strong goalkeeper core, we call ourselves GK Union. I am prepared to step into our starting role if that is what the coaches believe to be the best thing for the team.”
While Barbara is pleased to have earned that role, she is more focused on getting in synch with her teammates.
“I am happy that I was able to do what I did in a short amount of time but it is all about gaining that confidence back and forming that camaraderie with my backs, midfielders and forwards in front of me,” said Barbara.
“At the end of the day we are playing as a unit of 11. I am confident in what I can do and I am confident in what they can do. That is the most important thing.”
The Tigers built on that camaraderie two days later, topping Saint Joseph’s 3-0 as Barbara and McCamey combined on the shutout, each playing a half in the victory, with Emma Davis, Marissa Hart, and Lily Bryant each scoring goals.
“This first game was really important, not only for me, but for the team in general to gain our confidence and put us in this position,” said Barbara.
“I think the biggest thing was to get the team camaraderie together, pushing and working hard.”
Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll was excited to see his team get back in action.
“It was unbelievable, it had been 656 days,” said Driscoll.
“It was great energy, great crowd. I think sometimes we got too emotional. You get so much enthusiasm, sometimes you have to be a little more composed.”
Fueled by that emotion and a raucous Friday night lights crowd of nearly 600, the Tigers displayed a high work rate against Loyola.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Driscoll. “We had a lot of chances. If you put them away, it changes the whole complexion of the game. You can’t fault the energy, you can’t fault the effort. You have got to love the fans, they were great.”
The fans got to see a number of Tigers as seven reserves came off the bench in the game.
“It was an overall team effort, a lot of kids played which is always great,” said Driscoll.
“We saw a lot of youngsters, we saw a lot of veterans. It was just good to give everyone a chance to get back out playing together.”
One of the players subbed in, senior Gabi Juarez, starred as she scored the first goal of the evening on a PK late in the first half and then picked up an assist on a goal by Kamryn Loustau at the 58:47 mark as the Tigers built a 2-0 lead.
“Gabi did really well, she came in and gave us a spark, which is huge,” said Driscoll.
“These kids are all trying to figure out their roles. We told them to embrace whatever role they have, whether they are starting or they are finishing the game. It all matters, I think they are all pretty bought in. That is going to pay dividends for us going forward.”
At the other end of the pitch, the Tiger back line held the fort.
“I thought our defense did a really good job,” said Driscoll. “They did a good job controlling the tempo of the game, they did a good job keeping the ball and they did a good job defending. Grace did a good job, the whole back four did a good job.”
It was a really good feeling for Driscoll to see his players finally back at work.
“It is just nice to play again, it is nice to be around the kids again,” said Driscoll, whose team is next in action when it plays at George Mason (0-4) on September 2 and at 11th-ranked Georgetown (1-0-1) on September 5.
“It is nice to compete for Princeton again, wear the crest and represent this University. It has been a long time coming so we are all really appreciative and grateful to get to do it again. I am really happy for the kids; it was a pretty cool moment to be back out here.”
Barbara, for her part, is ready to keep getting out on the field for the Tigers.
“The thing about the Ivy League is that we play so many games in such a short amount of time,” said Barbara.
“To prepare ourselves, we have a lot of these Friday/Sunday games. We just have to move one at a time, go on to the next game and don’t move too fast. You can’t look ahead, it is one game at a time; that is what we did today.”