By Jakob Engelke
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In the early minutes of Saturday’s NCAA Tournament quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Maryland, the Princeton women’s lacrosse team seemed primed to pull off an improbable upset.
The Tigers controlled possession early and with two quick goals from midfielder Cassie Pyle ’12 and one from attacker Jaci Gassaway ’13, Princeton found itself owning a 3-1 lead with 14:40 remaining in the first half.
But it was only a matter of time before Maryland’s offense, which averaged 15 goals per game heading into the contest, came to life.
After the No. 12 Tigers’ initial outburst, the No. 1 Terrapins went on to score seven unanswered goals and took a four-score lead into halftime en route to a dominant 15-6 victory at Maryland’s Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
“We started out the game strong and feeling good,” Princeton head coach Chris Sailer said. “We were really giving them some difficulties with our one-on-ones, but Maryland’s a great team and they went on their runs. We never recovered from that.”
After Princeton took its early two-goal lead, Maryland head coach Cathy Reese called a timeout to settle down her players. The move worked to perfection, as the Terrapins outscored Princeton, 14-3, in the remaining 44 minutes of action.
“When we started the game, we had one goal in 21 minutes. That’s not like us,” Reese said. “We weren’t clearing the ball well, and Princeton had great pressure on us. We just needed to believe in ourselves and have confidence in each other and what we were capable of.”
Both goalkeepers put forth great efforts with Princeton’s Erin Tochihara ’11 stopping 14 shots and Maryland’s Brittany Dipper making 15 saves.
Maryland midfielders Katie Schwarzmann (four goals, two assists) and Laura Merrifield (three goals) and attackers Sarah Mollison (four goals, one assist) and Kristy Black (three goals) paced the Terrapins on offense, while Pyle (two goals, one assist) led the Tigers in scoring. Maryland (20-1) advanced to its third straight appearance in the Final Four.
In spite of a final score that leaned heavily in favor of the Terrapins, Sailer pointed to the vast improvements her team has made in just one short year as a moral victory of sorts. Last year the Tigers finished 6-10 and missed the postseason for the first time in 13 years. Twelve months later, Princeton (12-7) was one of the last eight teams standing in Division I, giving Sailer confidence heading into next season.
“We’ve progressed so much,” she said. “We’ve come so far, especially towards the end of the season. I give all the credit to our seniors and their leadership. We had great team chemistry this year, and we got better throughout the course of the season.”