We Are the Champions: The History of Princeton University’s Women’s Lacrosse Team

After the admission of women in 1969, many aspects of student life at Princeton were transformed, including sports activities. The first changes happened in the area of physical education. After response to a questionnaire given to female students revealed high demand for women’s physical education, the Department of Athletics designated a women’s locker room in Dillon Gym complete with hair dryers. Women’s participation in physical education courses, however, was voluntary and limited to swimming and tennis. The changes to physical education had mixed reviews, but most male students responded favorably. One student reportedly stated that it was pleasant not to see hairy legs all the time.

In the fall of 1970, the university appointed Meredith Lee Dean as director for women’s physical education. Dean expanded the Department of Athletics offerings to include field hockey, dancing, and sailing. These physical education courses were co-ed, and female students often showed as much promise as their male classmates. The Daily Princetonian mentions one incident where the students selected a female student as the star quarterback of a co-ed touch football team.

Female quarterback

Drawing by Jim Lecky, Daily Princetonian, September 14, 1970

Furthermore, women also informally participated in other sports activities. Janice F. Hill ’73, for example, had convinced the new freshman crew coach, John A. Rathschmidt to let her be a barge coxswain during the freshman crew practices.

One of the most dramatic changes to women’s participation in sports occurred during the fall of 1970: the University broke tradition and allowed women to battle each other in events at the annual Cane Spree. Centered around an odd cane wrestling match, the Cane Spree had long been a show of brawn for freshmen and sophomore men. This changed in 1970 when the University allowed freshman and sophomore women to compete in the same athletic matches as men.

Co-ed Cane Spree, 1970

Co-ed Cane Spree, Daily Princetonian, September 21, 1970

Another significant change was the formalization of women’s sports teams. In the fall of 1971, the University created a women’s varsity intercollegiate sports program that allowed intramural teams to compete formally with other schools. The 1971 varsity teams included field hockey, which had already been played extensively in other colleges, as well as tennis, squash, and crew. Princetonian women quickly demonstrated that they were willing and able to compete; several newspapers, including a feature in the New York Times, discussed the achievements of the women’s crew and tennis teams.

Louise Meledin '74

Louise Meledin ’74 with Coach Penny Hinckley, Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199), Box 556

Although the women’s lacrosse team had been playing since 1971, the university did not incorporate the team into the varsity league until the 1972-1973 season. The women’s field hockey and women’s lacrosse team shared many things: their coach Penny Hinckley, practice fields, and even some teammates. The team played its first game on April 26, 1973 against Westchester and suffered a 21-2 defeat. Among the early stars of the team was Emily Goodfellow ’76, who would win 12 letters for a variety of sports, and Louise Meledin’ 74, also a multiple letter winner and field hockey player.

The women’s lacrosse team finally acquired a coach of their own in 1978, when Hinckley accepted a position at Haverford College.  The new coach, Betty Logan, taught a more offensive approach and led the team to their best records, including beating long-time opponent Penn State. She also significantly increased the performance of the team by hiring Sandy Hoody, a 1986 World cup goalie and member of the US national team, as an assistant coach.

1979 Team Photo, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 161

1979 Team Photo, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 161

The team’s major winning streaks occurred in the mid-90s under the direction of Coach Chris Sailer, a Harvard graduate, and a rookie coach. Sailer, who has been with the team nearly 30 years, was inducted into the US Lacrosse National Hall of Fame in 2008 and has received many Coach of the Year awards. In 1993, the team won its first Ivy League championship and became the first Princeton women’s team to reach an NCAA final.

The following year the Tigers finished the job by beating Maryland 10-7 and becoming the first Princeton women’s team to win an NCAA Championship. The team retained its place as the Ivy League Champions until 1997, then regained the Ivy title in 2001 and kept it until 2005. The impressive wins of the team include 10 semi-finals and three championship games.

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has recently processed the Women’s Lacrosse Records acquired from the Department of Athletics. The collection covers games and practices from 1975-2010 and includes a variety of records including clippings, statistics, and video recordings. Other items in the collection are handwritten notes from the team’s coaches, game programs and reports and issues of various sports and lacrosse publications.

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