November 17, 2021

With Senior Standout Gee Tallying Both Goals, PU Women’s Soccer Tops Vermont 2-0 in NCAAs

G-FORCE: Princeton University women’s soccer player Tatum Gee, right, controls the ball last Friday night as the Tigers hosted Vermont in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Senior Gee scored both goals in the contest as Princeton prevailed 2-0. The Tigers, now 15-2-1, will face eighth-seeded TCU (18-2-2) at Rutgers on November 19 in a second round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Tatum Gee is trying to extend her time with the Princeton University women’s soccer team as long as possible.

The senior captain scored the only two goals in the Tigers women’s soccer team’s 2-0 win over Vermont in an NCAA tournament first round contest last Friday night at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“I think that was the perfect way to end it on this field,” said forward Gee, a native of Long Beach, Calif. “I couldn’t have asked for more than that. I have only good memories on this field now.”

Gee scored both goals in the first 20 minutes and Princeton Day School product Grace Barbara made three saves including a huge one early in the second half as Princeton improved to 15-2-1. Princeton advances to face eighth-seeded TCU, an 8-0 winner of Prairie View A&M, on November 19 at Rutgers, which is the bracket’s No. 1 seed.

“I’ve seen every top team in the country because I like to see how we match up in general in case we get there,” said Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll, whose team would face the victor of the Rutgers-Saint Louis matchup on November 21 in a Sweet 16 matchup if it can defeat the Horned Frogs.

“TCU is exceptional. Very, very good; very athletic, very well coached. I know Eric (Bell, TCU head coach) just from his time at Florida State. They’re a great team.”

Princeton, too, feels like it has something special this season. One year after not having a season at all, they earned a home NCAA game and made the most of it.

“This is the last game I’ll ever play at Princeton, so it was very emotional coming into it,” said Gee.

“I don’t think it was our best performance but I think the best thing that this team has is grit and we showed it tonight so no matter the circumstances, no matter how we’re playing, we find a way to win.”

Winning at this point serves two purposes. It pushes Princeton along farther in the NCAA tournament, and just as significantly to the team and to Driscoll is that it earns them more time together after so much time was lost last year.

“I took a gap year last year so I didn’t play with the team last year,” said Gee.

“I had a whole year off from seeing my best friends. So coming back to this program and getting to play soccer one last time was the greatest gift ever. And I’m not done playing soccer. Just to have one more week makes me feel so happy. Words can’t express what one more week means to me and this team.”

After scoring two total goals in three previous seasons, Gee has scored in bunches in her final year. She scored goals in five games this year, and in two of those games before Friday she also scored two goals. She now has eight on the season.

Twelve minutes into the game, Heather MacNab crossed the ball into the box where Alexis Hiltunen headed the ball high toward the right side of the 6-yard line as the Vermont goalie tried to punch the ball away and ended up tangled on the ground with one of her defenders. Gee raced in and went up over a Vermont defender to sky the ball up at the goal line and into the right side of the goal for the 1-0 lead.

After a Vermont foul, Gee took the ensuing free kick from 25 yards out. Her drive arched high and just over the goalie and players crashing the net to settle in the top of the far right corner for a 2-0 lead.

“It was a shot,” said Gee. “I was putting it in, in hopes it would go in or the keeper might not get all of the ball and it bounces back out. I got lucky with that one. The first one, I had no idea where it was honestly. I was just putting my body into the goal and got lucky too.”

Princeton had other chances as well. The Tigers outshot Vermont, 20-6, with nine of Princeton’s shots being saved. Barbara also faced a few dangerous opportunities, but kept Princeton’s breathing room all game.

“Grace made a save at 2-0 to keep it 2-0 in the second half,” said Driscoll.

“Grace has done that all season long. If you watch all of our Ivy League games, we had six shutouts and she had a big save in each of them. I thought that that save to her left in the second half was huge.”

The challenge of Vermont was their box midfield formation that Princeton had not seen this year. Now Princeton will face one of the top offensive teams in the country in TCU. TCU ranks 17th with 2.55 goals per game. TCU also sports a good defense that is ranked fifth in the country in goals against average. Princeton ranks 22nd.

“In order to be good, in order to have any chance in the tournament, you have to have a good defense,” said Driscoll.

“We’ve relied upon on defense in many, many occasions but that’s the game of soccer. Soccer is typically a one-goal game one way or the other, and it’s nice to know we have 11 shutouts and the teams that have fared the best since I’ve been here have had in excess of 10.”

Princeton’s three first-team All-Ivy League honorees are all from their defense – Barbara, junior Madison Curry and senior Lucy Rickerson. Gee, senior Gabi Juarez and sophomore Aria Nagai all were second-team selections. Junior Marissa Hart was named honorable mention.

“We’re a really good team,” said Driscoll. “As I’ve said to a lot of people, this is my favorite team I’ve ever coached. As Tatum alluded to already, it’s just a really good group of people, they all enjoy being together, the quality of the culture is off the charts.”

Princeton advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since Gee was a freshman in 2017 when they reached the NCAA quarterfinals. The Tigers lost in their first game in their last trip to the NCAA tournament in 2018.

“I definitely think being in two NCAA tournaments before this has helped me a lot just with my nerves and having a little bit more experience to show the other girls on the field,” said Gee.

“I think there’s something special about this team that I haven’t experienced in any teams prior in the fact that everyone is mature and very focused and we’re all on the same page with that. It’s not hard to lead these girls.”

Almost 1,000 fans were witnesses to Princeton’s quick start. The Tigers were aware of keeping their emotions in check and treating it as though it was a usual game.

“I think it was definitely hard the first five minutes where there’s so many fans in the stands and everything is pretty hectic,” said Gee. “But once we settle it down and we start moving the ball, it’s pretty easy.”

The two goals helped to settle down Princeton and buy another week together. The Tigers would like nothing more than to continue their season for the chance to bond more but they know they will have to be sharper than they were in their first-round performance to stay alive.

“I think if we’re going to do well, we’re going to have to move the ball a lot quicker than we did,” said Driscoll.

“We spent a lot of time on the ball dribbling tonight, and that’s not our M.O. It’s one of the things we can do, but it can’t be the only thing we do.”

Driscoll credited Vermont for its physical play to the end that kept Princeton from notching a third goal. Though Gee had both of the goals Friday, the Tigers have relied on a balanced attack that makes it impossible to key on any one player. They will need a strong attack and their vaunted defense to play at a higher level against TCU.

“I do feel confident, but I do feel like there are a lot of things we need work on going forward,” said Gee. “Everybody who made the tournament is a good team, so we’re taking it one game at a time.”