September 20, 2023

With MacNab Finding Rhythm After Dealing with Injury, Tiger Women’s Soccer Tops Quinnipiac 4-2, Now 5-1-1

MAC ATTACK: Princeton University women’s soccer player Heather MacNab gets ready to toss the ball into play in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward MacNab tallied a goal and an assist to help Princeton defeat Quinnipiac 4-2. The Tigers, now 5-1-1, host Cornell on September 23 in their Ivy League opener before playing at Lafayette on September 26. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

By Justin Feil

Heather MacNab did not want to rest on the high of the biggest win of the season for the Princeton University women’s soccer team.

With Princeton coming off a 3-2 win over No. 10 Georgetown last Thursday evening, junior forward MacNab scored her first goal of the season and added an assist to help the Tigers post a 4-2 win over Quinnipiac last Sunday.

McNab was one of four different goal scorers for Princeton, who improved to 5-1-1 heading into the Ivy League portion of the schedule which starts when Princeton hosts Cornell on September 23.

“We have a lot of momentum going forward,” said MacNab. “We do have a big chip on our shoulder. I think we had a lot to give last season that we didn’t fully give so I think we have a lot to prove to ourselves just in terms of being able to compete in such a competitive league. We know we’re really good and able to compete with the best in the nation so it’s very important that we remain locked in and ready to fight and compete and dominate the Ivy League.”

MacNab, a 5’10 native of Indianapolis, Ind., was hampered by injuries coming off the summer and into the first few weeks of the season. That limited last year’s honorable mention All-Ivy selection, but she has seen her minutes and play elevate in recent games.

“She’s a sponge,” said Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll of MacNab, who tallied six goals and two assists in 2022. “She wants to get better all the time. She does all the things you’d ever ask a player. She’s the quintessential coach’s dream. She works extraordinarily hard, watches video, does extra training. You say it, she’ll do it. She loves the game and wants to play beyond college. When you have a kid with that mindset, it’s unbelievable.”

MacNab is feeling better and better about her and her team’s play as they head into a critical part of the season. She still sees room for improvement despite the hot start as Princeton is still looking to put together its most complete effort.

“It’s really putting in a shift for a full 90 minutes is what’s going to make us the best,” said MacNab. “I think we have all the pieces to be a top team in the country. It’s just making sure we’re mentally locked in for that full 90.”

The Tigers feel like they underperformed in the Ivy League last year, going 2-4-1 in league play. They haven’t forgotten that disappointment, and they are focused on earning one of the top four spots to play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament this year. Cornell beat them 2-1 last year, and they have knocked off Syracuse this season.

“It is going to be a daunting league this year,” said Driscoll. “Good thing there’s a playoff. I think you’re going to have some really good games and good teams. It’s the best the league has looked in years.”

Princeton has shown more resilience and maturity this year. The Tigers had to put their significant 3-2 win over Georgetown at home on leading scorer Pietra Tordin’s late second-half strike behind them.

“We know we’re a really good team this year,” said MacNab. “We’re very talented across the board. We have a very deep team. But good teams have to show up for every game, we can’t just have one good result and be happy with that. As soon as we beat Georgetown, that game was in the past and we had to look forward to this game. Even with our Ivy games on the horizon, we couldn’t look past to those. We really had to focus on this game.”

The Tigers fought through an early morning wake-up call and bus ride to Quinnipiac, a late arrival and shorter warm-up than ideal, yet still jumped out to a 3-1 halftime lead. Senior defender Madison Curry scored her first goal of the season before Quinnipiac tied it. MacNab then converted a crossing pass 10 minutes later for the go-ahead goal. In the second half, MacNab set up senior midfielder Jen Estes for her first goal of the season.

“Our mentality really shined through today,” said MacNab. “We counter-pressed really well today. We possessed the ball back when we lost it and at first, when things weren’t really going our way in terms of offense, we turned that around and realized if we could just play quickly and be aggressive, mentally be switched on the whole time, that helped us to play well and outplay Quinnipiac.”

Facing some of the same challenges may have been harder on a younger team, the Tigers are a more experienced group this season. They have used their frustrations from a year ago and the lessons learned to get off to a better start this fall.

“I think it’s been really great coming in and having a lot more experience, because we have so much talent on this team,” said MacNab. “The switch from club level to college is just a different level and you can’t really adjust until you experience it. Everyone having a year-plus of experience under their belt has been super influential in how we’ve been doing.”

MacNab appreciated receiving All-Ivy honors last year, but was hoping for greater team success. She put her efforts into developing her game further to help the team. She trained at left back in the spring, but her versatility has allowed the Tigers to use her at any level of the field.

“I was just grateful to be able to play and grateful to be around such great teammates,” said MacNab. “That’s what gets me fired up to go to training every day and go into games. I also knew I had a lot more to give from last season and I feel that I’ve improved a lot. So there are a lot of positives to build off of last season and just know there’s always more.”

One of the frustrations of a year ago that has improved in the early going is Princeton’s finishing ability. Tordin is clear and away the top scorer with nine goals and three assists already. Freshman Kayla Wong is the only other player with more than one goal as she has tallied two goals and three assists, but Princeton now has eight players that have at least one goal.

“Last year we were very dangerous on the attack, but we lacked the end product,” said MacNab.  “It’s a mentality piece this year that we’re all just dying to get the ball in the back of the net any way possible. We’ve focused our training a lot toward being clinical finishers, which helps.”

Like any coach, Driscoll would like to see his team be even more efficient. Princeton has outscored teams, 2.71-1.43, per game this season. The Tigers have more than doubled their opponents’ total shots, 120-56, and there is opportunity for Princeton to be even higher scoring.

“We’re putting ourselves in better positions,” said Driscoll. “Our personality players are finding good spaces to get into. Selfishly, I just want more players on the team to grab more goals. I think we’ve got some players that can do so, and they’ve been a little unlucky. If we can get a couple other kids feeling good, in addition to the one that’s scoring a ton, it’ll only make us better. We’ve done a really good job of recognizing when to counter attack and when to hold possession in that final area as opposed to always looking to get behind the other team. There’s a bit of an evolution there.”

Driscoll has been pleased by the start overall. There have been plenty of positives to build on in the young season and with how Princeton has prepared and played.

“I like the way they’re taking in information, they’re being extraordinarily coachable, and we have a very clear idea how we want to play, an identity, with how we want to go about games,” said Driscoll. “I think they’re embracing it and doing pretty much everything that’s being asked, and I think they understand the why. Because they understand that, it’s helping do everything else. We’ve played on the front foot most of our games. We’ve not backed down from anyone. We had a little bit of a blip in one game where we were slow to get going, but other than that we really have played with tremendous intent. And the moments we don’t, we try to learn from them and try to get better. There’s a lot to like.”

Just as the Tigers did coming off their big win over Georgetown, they are not focusing on the strong start to the season but the next step, which is the Ivy schedule. The non-conference success has proven the sort of potential the team has, and they are hoping to continue to build on it in conference play.

“I really think it’s a testament to our hard work — individually we all prepared really well,” said MacNab. “After last season we had a tough spring where we all grew a lot and individually. This summer we all trained a bunch and collectively this preseason we were really, really intense and focused. We know how good we can be and we see it when we show up to practice every single day. That’s part of what’s given us the confidence to be so successful out of conference. As much as the results we’ve had have given us confidence, we feel like we’re focusing one game at a time and not trying to look at what we’ve accomplished but what we have yet to do.”