February 22, 2023

Sophomore Montes Sparks Attack with Career Day, But PU Women’s Lax Falls to Virginia in Opener

ROUGH START: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Nina Montes looks to unload the ball as Princeton hosted Virginia last Saturday in its season opener. Sophomore attacker Montes tallied four goals and two assists in the contest, but it wasn’t nearly enough as No. 13 Virginia prevailed 20-11. No. 17 Princeton plays at Temple on February 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Nina Montes is confident that the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team will bounce back from its season-opening loss.

Despite a team-high six points from sophomore attacker Montes, including two goals to help stake the Tigers to a 4-0 lead in the first 4:01 of the game, Princeton could not hold off No. 13 Virginia in a 20-11 loss last Saturday at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“Moving forward we know what we need to work on,” said Montes reflecting on the contest which marked the first game for new Tiger head coach Jenn Cook. “And we’re going to really work hard in practice to make sure we can really execute next week and going forward. It’s our first game so we saw what we’re capable of, and we know that we’re capable of even more. It’s just looking forward to having a really good season.”

Princeton will play at Temple on February 25, then play at Rutgers on March 1 before opening Ivy League play against Yale on March 4, which was picked second in the media poll behind Princeton. The Tigers are hoping they can solidify their start in that stretch.

The start Saturday was not the problem. Princeton took a 1-0 lead on freshman Jami MacDonald’s first collegiate shot one minute into play. Montes scored her first goal of the season 27 seconds later, and Kari Buonanno fired in her first goal two minutes later. When Montes scored with 10:59 left in the first quarter, Princeton looked to be in midseason form.

“Our attack was definitely in its flow, and our defense was doing really well,” said Montes. “Everyone was really executing our game plan from our coaches. The leadership from our upperclassmen was going well. We were doing incredible.”

Montes assisted MacDonald’s second goal of the game as the Tigers held a 5-4 lead after the first quarter. Virginia, though, began to dominate in one of the most critical areas for women’s lacrosse — draw control — in the second and third quarters. Virginia had a 7-2 edge in the second quarter that enabled them to retain plenty of possession and set up a 15-8 shot advantage that paid off with a 10-7 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, it got worse for the Tigers. Virginia had an 8-1 draw control advantage, a 15-2 shot advantage, and by the time that Montes scored to start the fourth quarter, Princeton trailed 18-8.

“It was definitely a momentum shift and we were never able to shift the momentum back,” said Montes. “The third quarter was a little bit rough.”

Montes tied her career-high with six points on four goals and two assists. She is part of an offense that returned eight of its nine leading scorers from a year ago and added highly regarded MacDonald to the mix. MacDonald, Buonanno, and sophomore attack McKenzie Blake all had two goals apiece. Grace Tauckus had a goal and an assist.

“I think the attack is coming together really well,” said Montes. “I’m really excited for this season. We have a lot of great returners and great additions from our freshmen. I think we’re going to do really well. Our leadership from our upperclassmen has been absolutely incredible and we’ve had great leaders like Grace Tauckus and Kate Mulham who are definitely helping us all get accustomed to everything. I know that we’re going to have a really great season.”

The Princeton defense has been overhauled since last year after graduation losses. Freshman goalie Amelia Hughes made 11 saves before giving way to sophomore Tia Reaman for the final five minutes. The defense faced a big challenge in a Virginia team that already had two games this season before playing Princeton. Montes is part of the attack that pushes the Princeton defense every day in practice.

“Our defense has been working really hard,” said Montes. “We have some great senior leaders and I know that they’re going to do absolutely incredible this year. It’s been nice to play against them because they hold us accountable as an attack and they help us find new ways to get around defenders on other teams. It’s really nice having them to practice on. They keep us humble.”

Montes remains an eager learner. After a solid first year, she continued to work to be a bigger threat this season.

“Our coaches always give us incredible feedback on what exactly in our game we need to improve so we can achieve our highest level of playing,” said Montes. “I know our coaches and my teammates have helped me so much. Anything that I do is a testament to all the hard work that our team has done. It reflects so well on my team and the hard work that our entire team is doing.”

Montes proved last year that she had the potential to excel at the college level. She seems already to have been thrust into a bigger role which could mean bigger expectations.

“I don’t like to look at it as pressure from other people,” said Montes. “I just like to look at it as I’m showing up for my teammates and coaches and doing the best I can in each and every moment.”

The Chicago resident has been doing that since her arrival. She scored in her collegiate debut last year and finished with 18 goals and five assists in her first season. She had goals in 10 of her final 13 games.

“I feel like everyone will say it’s a little bit of a transition when you switch from high school lacrosse to college lacrosse,” said Montes, who played at St. Ignatius High. “I know I had really great leaders on my team and teammates that were so helpful. I love our coaches, who were so incredible in helping each and every one of us make that transition. It was just exciting to play.”

Montes calls herself grateful for the experience she got last year. The 5’2 attacker was able to make an impact, and brought those lessons into this season.

“This year, I feel more confident in my role,” said Montes, who was a midfielder in high school. “Having a season under my belt I feel a lot more confident in my abilities and knowing what I need to execute to help our team succeed.”

Montes did not score in last year’s 14-10 win over Temple, but she remembers playing the Owls. The Tigers will go on the road to face Temple this time.

“They’re definitely a really gritty team so I know it’ll be a tough competition,” said Montes. “I’m really confident in our coaches and my team and I think we can definitely succeed and do what we need to do this coming Saturday.”

Montes will be ready if that means that the Tigers need scoring out of her. She is looking to help the team pick up a win with any contribution that she can make. Saturday was a big scoring game for her, something she credits to her teammates and coaches. Montes is surrounded by plenty of other scoring options that she expects will have their big scoring days as well.

“I think every game is different,” said Montes. “Every team has a different defense. I know that all of my teammates are definitely going to have their moments when they shine. We’re going to have a lot of different games where a lot of different people have four or five goals. I’m really excited to see what everyone on my team does this year.”

Princeton was excited about the way that it started its season opener, but a big focus is going to be sustaining that effort all the way to the finish. The Tigers are preparing to take those steps for their next contest.

“The biggest takeaway is knowing how important momentum shifts are and really executing our game plan at all times,” said Montes. “Seeing what happened on Saturday and what we need to focus on for this coming season is definitely a huge takeaway. It’ll definitely help us in the coming season to really implement what we need to exactly do to succeed.”