September 29, 2021

Despite Tough 3-1 Defeat to No. 10 Rutgers, PU Field Hockey Headed in the Right Direction

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton University field hockey player Ali McCarthy, right, races after the ball in a game earlier this fall. Last Friday, junior star McCarthy tallied two goals as Princeton defeated Penn 5-1 in the Ivy League opener for both squads. Two days later, McCarthy had an assist in a losing cause as the 17th-ranked Tigers fell 3-1 to No. 10 Rutgers. Princeton, now 3-5 overall and 1-0 Ivy, hosts Yale on October 1 and No. 6 UConn on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After starting 0-3 this fall in its first action since 2019 with last season having been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, the Princeton University field hockey team started clicking in recent weeks.

Princeton edged Delaware 3-2 on September 17 for its first win and then routed Boston University 7-0 two days later. The 17th-ranked Tigers started last week by falling 4-3 in overtime at No. 9 Maryland and then started their Ivy League campaign in style by posting a 5-1 win at Penn last Friday.

“I definitely think we have seen it come together as we have moved on,” said Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente. “We are much, much better than the first couple of weekends.”

Last Sunday, things didn’t come together for the Tigers as they hosted No. 10 Rutgers. Princeton jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a goal by freshman star Beth Yeager off a penalty corner 2:10 into the contest but the Scarlet Knights responded with three unanswered goals over the rest of the game to prevail 3-1.

“I like the way we started; from that point we had a lot of great attack transition but we just kept running into tackles,” said Tagliente, whose team dropped to 3-5 overall with the setback.

“It was like a double turnover coming back at us the other way. I knew we couldn’t sustain that and that is what really broke us in the second half.”

In Tagliente’s view, her squad can learn a valuable lesson from the defeat.

“The message is if we are going to play at this level and play a team of this caliber, we really need to be on our game” said Tagliente of the contest which was knotted 1-1 at halftime before Rutgers pulled away with a pair of goals in the third period.

“I think they are the best team we have played yet. I don’t think we were quite there today but I think we have it in us. It just wasn’t there.”

While Princeton showed some spark on offense, it struggled at the other end of the field.

“We still need to clean up a lot on defense, we are just really suspect back there,” said Tagliente.

“You can almost feel it that we are going to get broken and we did. We need to clean that up. We have gained a lot of ground in terms of just our attack transition and just being a threat in the attack end.”

The precocious Yeager has been a bright spot for the Tiger attack, leading the team in goals (8) and assists (6).

“She is doing great, there are sometimes when I think she tries to take too much on and ends up gassing herself out a little too much,” said Tagliente of Yeager.

“You can see she is a pretty formidable player and pretty impactful on both sides of the ball. She is still growing and making the transition from high school too. I know she has played with the U.S. team but it is still a transition. She is starting to settle in and understand her role. Her impact is just going to keep growing as the year goes on.”

Other Tigers have been making an impact as Princeton has gone 3-2 after the 0-3 start.

“Sammy [Popper] has played a lot better in the middle,” added Tagliente.

“Claire [Donovan] has dinged in a bunch of goals here and there and had some corners. Ali [McCarthy] had a great game against Penn. It has been different players coming along. Gabby [Andretta] has played great at center back; some of those games could be a bigger score line if she weren’t bailing us out.”

With the Tigers hosting Yale on October 1 and No. 6 UConn on October 3, Tagliente believes the Tigers can build on the effort against Rutgers despite the disappointing result.

“Sometimes we start to see it come together and then we play a team like these guys, they are a top 5 team,” said Tagliente.

“You feel like you take a step back because you don’t win. It is not really a step back, I think it is still a good game for us.”