May 8, 2024

PU Women’s Lacrosse Falls to Penn in Ivy Semis But Gets At-Large Bid to NCAAs, Will Face Drexel

STILL GOING: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Jami MacDonald, right, heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, sophomore attacker MacDonald tallied four goals and two assists as Princeton fell 18-14 to Penn in the Ivy League Tournament semis. The Tigers, now 10-6, will get to play in another tourney as they were named as an at-large selection to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Princeton will face Drexel (13-5) on May 10 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in an NCAA first round contest. The winner faces second-seeded and host ACC champion Boston College (16-3) on May 12 in the second round. (Photo by Steven Wojtowicz)

By Justin Feil

The announcement last Sunday night of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament helped the Princeton University women’s lacrosse in a number of ways.

It enabled them refocus on another goal ahead, it took away some of the sting of falling 18-14 to Penn in the Ivy League tournament semifinals last Friday, and was heartening after the program missed out on the NCAAs last year.

“This group has worked incredibly hard,” said Tigers head coach Jenn Cook. “To get this opportunity, starting from the end of last year they have really put the work in and really have built relationships on and off field that have really shown on the field, and they have put in the work in order to have this opportunity and all of us are very, very excited.”

Princeton, now 10-6, will go on the road to face Drexel (13-5) on May 10 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in a first round contest. The winner faces second-seeded and host ACC champion Boston College (16-3) on May 12 in the second round. Boston College has reached the last six national championship games, but first the Tigers have to get by Drexel.

The Dragons were the No. 2 seed in the Coastal Athletic Association and are coming off a 9-6 loss to Stony Brook in the CAA tournament championship. Both Princeton and Drexel defeated Penn State during the regular season. Princeton also defeated Penn, whom Drexel lost to in February.

“They’re a tough, gritty, well-coached team,” said Cook. “It’s going to be a great opponent for us. Being from the CAA, we actually have a coach that played in the CAA and knows Drexel pretty well which is helpful. They have phenomenal players that are dangerous, but for us it’s really about playing our game at a really high level and executing what we know and playing our game at a high level.”

Princeton is grateful to have the opportunity to continue their season in the NCAAs. The Tigers were confident in their body of work even after the loss to Penn in the Ivy semifinals at Yale.

“All you can really do is set yourself up for as much success as possible by playing really competitive out-of-conference games and the Ivy this year has been incredibly competitive as a league,” said Cook. “So in general our strength of schedule or RPI, our quality wins like with Penn State and Penn, really put us in a fantastic position. I think our body of work was really, really strong in the competition that we played in and outside of the league, so it made us feel good going into Selection Sunday.”

Princeton continues to try to learn from every game. The Tigers felt good about the first half they played against Penn in the Ivy semi. The second-seeded Tigers led third-seeded Penn, 8-7, at halftime. Draw controls were 9-8 in Penn’s favor, turnovers were virtually even, and so was the game. The contest went back and forth for the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, and when Kari Buonanno scored her third goal of the game it tied the score, 11-11, with 5:30 left in the third quarter. Penn scored seven of the next eight goals to take control and a penalty on Princeton forced them to play a player down with more than seven minutes left in regulation.

The Tigers took plenty from the loss that they hope will help in the NCAA tournament.

“I think it’s making in-game adjustments quicker, I think that was something that we didn’t do at the highest level this past weekend,” said Cook. “We went and had a bit of a draw drought at not the greatest time. We were really even with them at halftime with the draw, and I think that third quarter we didn’t do exactly what we needed to do off the draw. In general we could have managed matchups better, and then making the most of our opportunities on the offensive end by burying the ball. In general, I think for us it’s really understanding the tempo of the game and having game awareness.”

Princeton got four goals from Jami MacDonald against the Quakers and hat tricks by Buonanno and Haven Dora. McKenzie Blake scored two goals. Amelia Hughes stopped 11 shots. Cook feels good about Princeton’s chances if they can implement some of the timeout adjustments quickly and remain disciplined in their play. The Tigers are looking to put that loss behind them.

“It’s a new season,” said Cook. “That’s what’s so exciting about the NCAA tournament. It’s anybody’s game and you go in it with the same type of prep and attitude that you want to be better and use this opportunity to the fullest extent and enjoy every single moment and continue to play with joy and being connected and executing the details at our really, really high level.”

Princeton is preparing much the same way it would for a regular-season week. The Tigers have to be prepared to face both Drexel and Boston College. They have to balance being fully prepared for Drexel and also not waiting until Saturday to put in a game plan for BC.

“You add in a lot of different concepts and practice planning that have overlaps between both opponents,” said Cook. “We do this going into the Ivy tournament, and when we play Wednesday/Saturday games, so this isn’t uncommon for our team. And that’s why Wednesday/Saturday-type of weeks for us, when we are doing team prep in the regular season, it is important for our ability to really handle all that information and kind of have all of our practices ready to go regarding the important concepts that we need to really iron out and teach that are going to lead to success.”

In tournament time, the stars have to show up. Princeton had two players named First-Team All-Ivy League. Hughes was named the Ivy Goalkeeper of the Year while Blake was a unanimous first-team selection at attack.

“Those honors by those two are just incredible,” said Cook. “It’s so nice for them to be recognized within the Ivy League for how much they mean to this team. But what we always like to say is that those individual awards are a reflection of our group and the work that we do day in and day out to make each other. Both of them mean so much to this team. They’re both sparks that ignite our defensive end and our offensive end. They’re gamers, they compete. They make big plays in big moments. I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re just incredible people and competitors and teammates.”

Dora, Abigail Roberts, and Grace Tauckus were all second-team Ivy honorees. Princeton will need good games from its full roster to get by Drexel and Boston College in the opening weekend. The Tigers aren’t looking past anyone, not this season in which parity has been prevalent and nothing is a given.

“It’s anybody’s year,” said Cook. “Nobody has zero losses on the year, so everybody is taking this game like any other game. It’s really, really important. It’s the most important one. It’s the one that’s right in front of us. And we’ve got to handle our business at a high level.”