Providing Legendary Coach Sailer with a Going Away Gift, PU Women’s Lax Tops Yale to Win Ivy Regular Season Title
HISTORIC DAY: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Kyla Sears races upfield last Saturday against Yale. Senior star Sears tallied five goals and two assists to help Princeton defeat the Bulldogs 17-14 in an Ivy title showdown as the rivals both entered the game with 6-0 league marks. Sears broke the program record for career assists and tied Olivia Hompe for the most points in team history, ending the day at 285 points and 93 assists. The triumph also gave Princeton’s Hall of Fame head coach Chris Sailer a win in her final regular season home game. After the game, she was honored in a special ceremony with hundreds of her former players on hand. The Tigers, now 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy, while be hosting the Ivy postseason tournament this weekend. Princeton will face fourth-seeded Harvard on May 6 with the victor advancing to the final on May 8 against the winner of the semifinal between second-seeded Yale and third-seeded Cornell. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
History and emotion intersected in a memorable fashion as the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team hosted Yale last Saturday afternoon.
The contest marked the regular season finale for the program’s Class of 2022 which had already won two Ivy League titles during their time with the program.
It also marked the final scheduled home game for Princeton’s legendary Hall of Fame head coach Chris Sailer who had announced before the season that the 2022 campaign, her 36th guiding the program, would be her last year at the helm.
The occasion was marked by banners hanging around Class of 1952 Stadium depicting highlights of her tenure with Chris Sailer bobbleheads distributed to fans on hand. Hundreds of former Tiger players showed up, many wearing T-shirts in honor of their coach, marked “GOAT” (greatest of all time) on the front with the words “vision, keystone, impact, love, legend” printed on the back.
Adding to the drama, the clash with Yale, which drew a crowd of 1,223, was an Ivy title showdown as the rivals both entered the game with 6-0 league marks.
Princeton senior star Kyla Sears sensed the gravity of the moment.
“It was a huge day, there is obviously a lot going on,” said Sears. “We wanted to win for our senior class and for Chris. At the end of the day, there was one job that we had to do and that is win.”
Tallying five goals and two assists help Princeton pull out a 17-14 win as it improved to 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy, Sears made some history of her own. She broke the program record for career assists and tied Olivia Hompe for the most points in team history as she ended the day at 285 points and 93 assists.
“I was surprised when I heard it,” said Sears, a 5’4 native of Skaneateles, N.Y., reflecting on hitting those milestones. “I just wanted to win today, that was in the front of mind. It was nice but the win was better.”
The win didn’t come easy as Princeton built a 10-6 halftime lead only to see Yale narrow the gap to 13-12 with 5:07 left in the third quarter.
“It was a game of runs, we knew that Yale was going to be great competition today,” said Sears. “I think it really came down to the hustle on the ground balls, winning them all over the field. It was a back and forth game. I am really proud of our composure on attack and our defense just played so solid in the second half. We really owe it to them.”
Sears and her teammates know they owe a lot to Sailer.
“It takes a special kind of person to play at this school and for this program and the legacy that Chris has built,” said Sears. “She hits the nail on the head, finding that person every time. She has had a huge influence on me as a player but mostly as a person. I think everybody on this team would say that so giving her the season that she deserved this year was really important for us.”
Sailer, for her part, kept her head by focusing on beating Yale.
“It was incredibly emotional leading up to it but once the game started, it was like coaching a regular game which was awesome,” said Sailer.
It ended up being an awesome day for the Tigers as Sailer earned the 430th victory of her career.
“I know all of the time that went into preparing this; it was such a big day for our seniors and for our team with the Ivy title on the line,” said Sailer. “I am just really glad that we were able to pull out the win in front of so many alums. There is definitely a feeling of pressure in that situation on such a big stage but our kids really came through against a very competitive Yale team in a very physical game.”
With the Bulldogs dominating the draw controls by a 25-9 margin, the Tigers had to scrap all over the field to overcome Yale.
“The fact that we won that game by three being outdrawn the way we were was pretty amazing,” said Sailer. “That is a testament to the defense. We were able to win some of those draws and we battled better on the ground balls.[Sam] Fish made some big-time saves down the stretch that kept us in it. Yale was very physical at the other end but we had some kids making some big time plays.”
Sailer credited Sears with being one of the more amazing players in program history.
“The fact that she has done it in three years and five games just speaks to how talented she is,” said Sailer, reflecting on Sears’ scoring records. “You see it. She is just so quick, athletic, hard to defend and fearless.”
The squad’s senior group of 10 is talented in a number of ways.
“We had the six who started originally and then the four who joined them,” said Sailer. “It has just been a great group. Everybody has different roles to play but they have all really committed themselves to Princeton lacrosse and have all played a part in this championship.”
Running the table in Ivy play made the championship even more special.
“It is pretty awesome, we haven’t had that many titles that were 7-0,” said Sailer, who was later named the Ivy Coach of the Year. “We were picked to win it but it certainly wasn’t easy. We were challenged often along the way. We were able to pull out every game and hats off to the team for their work ethic and their belief in themselves and each other.”
The win means that Princeton be hosting the Ivy postseason tournament this weekend which will determine the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tourney. The Tigers will face fourth-seeded Harvard on May 6 with the victor advancing to the final on May 8 against the winner of the semifinal between second-seeded Yale and third-seeded Cornell.
“We are so happy we don’t have to travel, we get to play here at home,” said Sailer. “We are excited to be hosting again.”
Sears, for her part, is happy to be staying home for the Ivy competition.
“We are in a good place, I am sure we will see Yale again next weekend back on this field,” said Sears, who has tallied 78 points on 53 goals and 23 assists this season and was named the Ivy Attacker of the Year and a first-team All-Ivy selection. “We know they are going to be good competitors, we are so excited.”
There were some touching moments on the field last Saturday after the game as a short film detailing Sailer’s career was shown on the video board and the coach then walked through a spirit tunnel of 100s of former and current players lined up, slapping hands all the way through.
“I am just starting to bawl, it was some people that I see all the time and some people that I haven’t seen in years,” said Sailer, reflecting on her walk through the line. “People from California, Texas, Colorado and all over the country who came back for this day today. As a coach it impacts you, seeing that turnout. It has been an honor to be their coach and I love every one of them.”
In her remarks to the crowd, Sailer expressed her gratitude.
“To coach here at Princeton for such a long time, it is in my heart,” said Sailer with her voice breaking at times as she fought back tears. “You all are in my heart. You all have given me just an incredible career and experience. My relationship with you is going to last long after I coach my last game here and that is really the best thing. This is a day that I am always going to remember and thank you very much.”
Sailer’s words were greeted by an extended ovation, capping an incredible day that won’t soon be forgotten by those on hand.