For the vast majority of college athletes, winning a national title is nothing but a pipe dream. But the Princeton field hockey team is on the short list of favorites to win the NCAA championship, returning all but two starters from last year’s national semifinalists.
“It’s great to play on a team that has so much potential and works so hard every day,” Katie Reinprecht ’12 said. “We have high hopes for this year, and I think we have a special team.”
No. 4 Princeton posted early victories over Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond, who each received votes in the most recent national rankings. And in their biggest test yet, the Tigers downed No. 8 Syracuse, 1-0, at Class of 1952 Stadium Sept. 19.
In what is fast becoming a fierce rivalry – Princeton won both meetings with the Orange last season, including a 7-3 victory in the NCAA quarterfinals – the familiar foes played a chippy contest. The Orange held a 7-6 advantage in shots in the first half, but the game remained scoreless for more than an hour.
“You need to play teams that can expose you,” head coach Katie Holmes-Winn said. “We learned so much from the Syracuse game: We have a great attack, but they’re so stingy defensively that we found some flaws.”
Princeton controlled the ball with less than two minutes to play and called a timeout. After one play was thwarted, the Tigers regained possession and fed striker Michelle Cesan ’13. Cesan brought the ball into the circle and sent it into the cage for the game’s first and only goal. The visitors had a chance to equalize, but goalie Christina Maida ’14 pushed away the last-second shot.
“I think most of the team thought we were headed to overtime, so when [Cesan’s] shot went in, it was incredible,” Reinprecht said.
Princeton also downed Dartmouth in its first Ivy League contest last weekend, cruising to a 9-1 victory. Kat Sharkey ’12 had a hat trick, bringing her season total to a team-leading 13 goals. The Tigers beat every Ivy opponent by three or more goals last season and are expected to claim the conference crown for the 16th time in 17 years.
The Tigers have other tough non-league games on the horizon. On Sept. 28, they host No. 2 Maryland – who ended Princeton’s 2009 season in the national semifinals – and they will take a road trip to No. 3 Virginia Oct. 8.