Princeton field hockey beats UNC to win first national title

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Amanda Bird ’14, pictured in an earlier game against Richmond, scored the game-winning goal in Princeton’s 3-2 national championship game win over UNC. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Before 2012, the field hockey team had a history of November heartbreak. Princeton had reached 11 quarterfinals, five semifinals and two championship games — but it had never won the big one, falling short in the 1996 and ’98 title games.
 
All that changed on Sunday afternoon. Playing against No. 1 North Carolina for the NCAA title in Norfolk, Va., the No. 2 Tigers overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and took a 3-2 lead on a penalty stroke by Amanda Bird ’14. For 10 agonizing minutes, they defended wave after wave of attacks until the last seconds finally ticked away and the long-awaited title was theirs.
 
“I went nuts. I just ran to my teammates to hug them and celebrate with them,” star striker Kat Sharkey ’13 said in an email. “This is such an amazing feeling, to win the national championship with my best friends.”
 
Over the last two decades, Princeton has completely dominated the Ivy League, winning 18 of the last 19 conference titles. Despite a lack of athletic scholarships and Ivy-instituted practice restrictions, the Tigers transcended the Ancient Eight to become a national powerhouse. (Consider this: No other Ivy League team has won an NCAA tournament game since Penn in 1989; Princeton has won 24 in that span.)
 
This year, the Tigers took that hegemony to another level, quickly rising to a program-best No. 2 national ranking while beating up on Ivy opponents with a cumulative score of 45-1. Despite a slip-up against Syracuse on Sept. 23, Princeton entered tournament play with only one loss for the first time in team history.
 

As fate would have it, the Tigers were able to settle a few scores on their way to the championship game. In 2010, Princeton lost in the quarterfinals at Virginia; on the same turf last weekend, the Tigers dropped the Cavaliers 5-2 to reach the Final Four. The last time Princeton went to the national semifinals, in 2009, it fell to Maryland; on Friday, the Tigers outlasted the Terps 3-2 in overtime to play for a title.
 
In both the first and second halves on Sunday, UNC controlled the game early in the period, only to see Princeton turn the tide later on. Sharkey blasted her 38th goal of the season off of a penalty corner to equalize midway through the first half; the nation’s scoring leader brought her career total to 107 goals, 50 percent higher than Princeton’s previous record of 71.
 
After the Tar Heels took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, Allison Evans ’15 evened the score again, picking up a rebound off of a slow Sharkey shot and poking it into the cage. Just three minutes later, Michelle Cesan ’14 darted into the circle and earned a penalty stroke — just as she had done in overtime to beat Maryland two days earlier — and Bird scored on a hair-raising penalty shot to take the Tigers’ first lead.
 
The nation’s top defense held from there, and the Tigers raised their first trophy. They also extended an impressive streak for Princeton — the University has now won an individual or team national championship in each of the last 42 school years.
 
The Ivy League may never again see a pair of classmates as accomplished as Sharkey and midfielder Katie Reinprecht ’13. They became just the second and third players ever to be named first-team All-Ivy for four consecutive seasons, they own a combined five Player of the Year awards (this year, Sharkey won the top offensive player honors while Reinprecht was the unanimous pick on defense), they went 28-0 in conference play — and now they will graduate after leading Princeton to the league’s first NCAA championship.
 
“I am very lucky to be able to say that I ended my career with a smile on my face. I couldn’t be happier for my team today,” Sharkey said. “I’m so happy to be able to bring the national championship to the Ivy League and, of course, to Princeton.”
 
Quick takes
 
FOOTBALL ended its season with a 35-21 loss to Dartmouth, one that felt a lot like the sputtering seasons of 2010 and ’11. Starting quarterback Connor Michelsen ’15 was unavailable due to a shoulder injury, and Quinn Epperly ’15 battled his own shoulder injury throughout the game. Two fumbles led to three Dartmouth touchdowns in about a four-minute span shortly after halftime, swinging the game for good.
 
By the time the team celebrated at a Big Three bonfire three hours later, though, that loss seemed like ancient history. "We don’t really have a choice but to be ready to go to a bonfire now,” co-captain Andrew Starks ’13 said after the game. “This campus and this community has waited such a long time for it; to not have the right mindset and go out there and enjoy it with them would be a slap in the face to the support they’ve given us this year." Princeton finished its season at 5-5 (4-3 Ivy League), its best mark since 2006.
 
WOMEN’S SOCCER’s NCAA tournament run — and its 12-game win streak — came to an end in Thursday’s second round, when the Tigers lost to No. 4-seed Marquette 3-1 in Utah. Princeton took an early lead on a goal by Lauren Lazo ’15, but the Golden Eagles struck back just before halftime and twice more after the break.
 
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL suffered its first regular-season loss in 19 games, falling 56-45 at Marist. Star forward Niveen Rasheed ’13 shot just 3-for-17 from the field, and when Rasheed doesn’t score, Princeton doesn’t yet have a dependable secondary option.
 
MEN’S BASKETBALL blew an 18-point lead to Northeastern on Tuesday and lost a close game to Rutgers on Friday, both at Jadwin Gymnasum. The Tigers have struggled against zone defenses this season — and now they’ll play college basketball’s most famous zone practitioner, No. 8 Syracuse, at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday.
 
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY finished 11th at NCAA Championships, the best result in program history. For more details, read Dave Hunter ’72’s report from Louisville on The Weekly Blog.
 

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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.

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