POPPING OFF: Princeton University field hockey player Sammy Popper celebrates after a goal last Sunday as the Tigers posted a 4-1 win over Rutgers. Senior star Popper tallied a goal and an assist in the victory as the Tigers improved to 2-2. In upcoming action, No. 17 Princeton hosts Delaware (1-5) on September 16, defending national champion and top-ranked Northwestern (6-0) on September 18, and No. 3 Maryland (6-0) on September 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Sammy Popper made a pretty good case for staying up on the Princeton University field hockey’s attack.
After playing defense for the Tigers’ 0-2 Labor Day weekend against North Carolina and Louisville to open the season, Popper scored the first goal in each of back-to-back wins for Princeton this weekend. Senior tri-captain Popper was one of five different scorers as 17th-ranked Princeton beat No. 7 and previously unbeaten Syracuse 5-1 last Friday in its home opener. Two days later, Popper started the scoring for the Tigers in a 4-1 win over last year’s NCAA tournament top seed, Rutgers, on Sunday.
“When you do have a loss, it’s bounce back and win the next one and learn what you can from it and not dwell on it,” said Popper, a 5’5 native of Blue Bell, Pa. “I think that’s what we did this weekend.”
Popper’s move forward helped at the offensive end. She was pleased to be able to contribute up top, although says she valued her time on defense through last spring and the first weekend of the year.
“It was definitely good for me,” said Popper. “Because I’m a natural attack player, it was good for me to be back there and it helped me be more disciplined defensively. I can’t complain. I think it did teach me something. But I am happy to be back playing forward.”
Popper hasn’t actually played her natural forward position much since arriving at Princeton. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year played midfield as a freshman and again last year. And when defender Gabby Andretta was hurt last spring, Popper accepted the team-first approach to sliding back to defense until Andretta returned. Andretta was cleared just before the opening weekend.
“We kept Sammy back there because we had been working on it since the spring,” said Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente. “She can be a bit of a threat out of the back with her ability to hit the long ball. We figured it’s probably best to keep her up front because she is very dangerous in front of the goal. If she gets a little bit loose and gets the ball, she’s probably one of the most dangerous players in the country in the circle. I think you saw that with the first goal last game and first goal this game. Then we have some other players we’re breaking in in some other positions. It’s still going to take more time, but definitely it’s a big improvement from last week.”
After a pair of one-goal losses to Top-5 teams UNC (4-3 on September 2) and Louisville (2-1 on September 4), Princeton was able to bounce back strong in their second weekend. The Tigers weren’t satisfied with a moral victory by giving two top teams a scare, and they took it to Syracuse which came in as the nation’s leading scoring team.
“I think for us it really showed how good of team we are, how strong of a team we are when we just do everything right and bring our energy,” said Popper. “In the Louisville game we felt a little disorganized and didn’t have our best energy and didn’t have our best game. That’s normal to have in your first weekend of the season. It showed what we can achieve and how great we are. It felt great to have that. It instilled a lot of confidence in everyone, especially the younger players who haven’t been there before. It was really awesome for that.” more