April 10, 2024

Sophomore Goalie Hughes Comes Up Big As PU Women’s Lax Defeats Penn, Columbia

SAVING FACE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse goalie Amelia Hughes makes a save in a 2023 game. Last Saturday, sophomore Hughes made nine saves as Princeton defeated Columbia 24-12. The No. 17 Tigers, now 7-3 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, play at No. 7 Loyola on April 10 and at Brown on April 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Princeton University women’s lacrosse goalie Amelia Hughes was tasked last year with taking over for first-team All-Ivy League goalie Sam Fish after Fish graduated.

While Fish left big shoes to fill, Hughes was up to the challenge,  getting named second-team All-Ivy after leading the conference in saves, save percentage, and saves per game.

The Wilton, Conn., native has been even better this year.

“Amelia is an incredible competitor and she loves those pressure moments,” said Princeton head coach Jenn Cook. “She likes the spotlight and she always makes really incredible, big-time plays in high pressure moments that just spark the entire time. She has really matured and grown in confidence in her game over this year in particular. She has grown in her role of being our defensive anchor which has been great to see.”

Hughes faced a season-high 41 shots and made 11 saves for a 55 percent save percentage as Princeton upended then-No. 7 Penn, 14-9, last Wednesday in a key Ivy showdown. McKenzie Blake scored five goals to pace the offense which got hat tricks from Haven Dora and Grace Tauckus while Jami MacDonald scored twice and Kari Buonanno chipped in a momentum-building goal as well.

“That definitely gives us a lot of confidence knowing that we can really play and beat any team that we put our minds to it,” said Hughes. “I also think it really showed us that we have everything that we need on our team. And it comes down to how much effort we’re going to put in and how well we’re going to utilize our skills. I think that was a huge confidence boost for us.”

Princeton followed the signature triumph of the season with a 24-12 win at Columbia on Saturday. The No. 17 Tigers, now 7-3 overall and 3-1 Ivy, play at Loyola at Loyola on April 10 and then resume league action by playing at Brown on April 13.

“It’s also another chance to learn and grow,” said Hughes. “In every single one of our games, we’ve definitely learned something, taken something away that we’ve then been able to apply in the future. I think that this game is another opportunity for us to show what we’re capable of and really work together and get the end outcome that we desire. Regardless of the outcome, there will be things that we learn that will help us out down the road.”

Hughes and the Tigers have continued to develop since last season when a young Princeton team missed the NCAA tournament as it went 7-9 overall. Princeton started this season 3-3 before reeling off four straight wins heading into tonight’s contest.

“In the later games, we’ve had a lot of experience,” said Hughes. “We’ve had a lot of close games with a lot of tough opponents. Playing those teams, we’ve learned what works for us and what doesn’t. I also think we’ve been a lot more united as a team and we can communicate much more effectively on the field.”

Princeton’s back line was completely rebuilt last year with Hughes stepping in as the last line of defense. The Tigers have been working to develop the sort of camaraderie necessary to be a stout defense. Princeton is up to 58th in the country in scoring defense, good enough when combined with the 18th ranked scoring offense to have the Tigers 30th in the nation in scoring margin.

“We had a lot of close games — whether we were winning or losing them they were super close — and I think in those games, we really came together as a team, especially the ones we did win,” said Hughes. “We gained a lot of belief in each other and ourselves and the program as a whole. I think that having those games under our belts, we really trusted each other and knew we could play in those games that got close in the end and we did believe. As a goalie, I believe in my defenders, my midfielders and my attackers. And I think everyone can say the same for everyone else on the field.”

That confidence came into play against Penn, a team that had knocked off then-No. 1 Maryland the week before. Three times through the first half, the Tigers trailed Penn by a couple of goals. They rallied to tie the game, 7-7, with Buonanno’s lone goal one second before halftime.

“Even at the beginning when we went down initially, we knew we were still in the game,” said Hughes. “We knew we could beat this team. Believing in each other and keeping that belief strong, especially as things maybe weren’t going our way in the beginning, but maintaining that belief throughout and really pushing through in the end.”

Princeton’s defense tightened and the Tigers’ offense scored four of the next five goals to open up a 11-8 lead. Princeton then scored three of the final four goals in the game to pull away for a comfortable win.

“We are so dynamic offensively,” said Cook. “Any given day, anybody can put up a lot of goals or assists. That is what is so special about this group offensively is if you want to shut down a McKenzie then Haven is going to have a day. If you shut down Haven and McKenzie, a Grace Tauckus is going to have a day or a Kari Buonanno. We’re just really dynamic and have the ability to score in a lot of ways with a lot of different people.”

Princeton had nine different goal scorers in the win over Columbia. Blake scored another five goals, Buonanno finished with four goals an MacDonald had a hat trick. Meg Morrisroe, Colette Quinn, Ella Sloan, Samantha DeVito, Nina Montes, and Tauckus all had two goals apiece. Princeton’s offense has been more efficient with its passing and shooting to help foster the recent winning stretch that has improved the Tigers’ results from what they were getting through the first six games of the year.

“There was never a doubt or any type of wavering,” said Cook. “It was just like we needed a couple more minutes in the game or some better individual choices in the moment — whether that’s clearing or whether that’s different shots at different times. Just more game sense and game awareness and those are things you start to work through at this time of year. And there’s a learning curve to that in the beginning of the year. We’re making the most of our opportunities, executing details on the defensive end and taking the right shots and finishing them when we have them.”

The win over Penn though carried significance because of how highly ranked the Quakers were coming in. The victory falls in line with wins over Penn State and Rutgers. Princeton’s win over Penn marked the highest ranked team it has beaten.

“That win at that time of the year against a really talented and well coached team is always a confidence booster,” said Cook. “As a team, we’re really starting to get into a rhythm and really starting to click on a lot of different levels and areas of the field. The players have put in so much hard work throughout the year in order to start peaking at the right time of year, which is awesome to see.”

Hughes has been an important factor for the Tigers. She feels different this year after having a full season under her belt and being a part of the defensive unit for a second season.

“I think last year I was a lot more nervous,” said Hughes. “This year I’ve gained a new sense of confidence. I think I do have a better understanding of how our defense works and the different things we’re trying to accomplish when we run different strategies on teams. I think confidence is huge. I’ve also gotten to know the defenders around me better and I have a new connection with them. I think that’s super helpful.”

Hughes last year had to adjust to the speed of the game and make adjustments to the more in-depth game plans, including the need for even better communication. Everything was at a higher level, and she was new and in a big spot for the Tigers.

“I think I certainly did feel some pressure as a goalie, but I also think it fell more so on the entire defensive unit and we were always there to back each other up,” said Hughes. “If I made a mistake, my teammates would lift me up and tell me, ‘Keep pushing, we still have the rest of the game to play.’ The same would go if any defender made a mistake. I think as much as I did feel pressure, I knew that I had a very supportive group of girls around me that would help me out if I was ever in a slump and really push me to keep going even if things weren’t going great.”

Hughes has become a reliable goalie for the Tigers, the latest in a long line of strong players at the position. She came in looking up to Fish, who left a legacy and she has picked up her play and shown she’s more than capable of filling a big spot for Princeton.

“I think I’m happiest about the confidence and connection I feel to my defenders,” said Hughes. “I think that when we get on the field, I’m no longer as nervous as I was last year and I do feel like I have a lot of teammates I can rely on. And in situations when I have the ball on a clear situation, I know there’s going to be someone open for me and I know where to find me and they’ll talk me through it if anything happens. I do feel a stronger connection and a lot more confidence.”

Hughes and the Princeton team are all feeling a lot more confident. Their win over Penn that helped the Tigers extend their winning streak was just the latest reflection of their experience and work coming together for the stretch run.