Winning the tournament nets the No. 13 Tigers (28-4) only their second-ever Eastern Championships title, the first having come after a 6-4 victory over the University of Massachusetts in 2000. It also means that the Tigers are guaranteed one of the eight spots in the NCAA Championships for the first time in program history.
“Winning Easterns as a senior is the perfect end to a great last season,” senior center defender Audrey Zak said. “We have worked so hard and come so far as a team that this was the way we deserved to finish. NCAAs are in my hometown this year — San Diego — so I’m coming full circle.”
The weekend started off with the Tigers facing a familiar foe in Harvard, which they had already beaten twice this year. The game was tied 3-3 going into the half, but as would turn into a theme for the tournament, the Tigers came out strong in the second half and secured a 9-6 win, with sophomore utility Katie Rigler and junior attack Brittany Zwirner combining for seven of those goals.
The next opponent for the Tigers was also a familiar one, as it was a Brown team that the Tigers had defeated only two weeks earlier in the Southern Championships title game, thanks to a last-second goal by Zwirner.
This time, however, the Tigers saw themselves down 5-2 going into the second half, and after they scored three goals to tie, an early goal in the fourth quarter put the Bears back on top. But freshman utility Camille Hooks found the back of the net as time expired, very similar to what Zwirner had done in the previous encounter. Hooks was not done however, as she secured a trip to the title game for the Tigers when she scored her second goal of the match during the first overtime period.
Their opponent in the finals came in the form of a Maryland team that had just knocked off Michigan, the top-ranked team in the tournament. The Tigers knew that this would be another difficult match, as they had already lost to the Terps earlier in the year, 7-6.
“The first time we played Maryland, we knew we did not play to our full potential,” Zak said. “We were excited to play them in the championship game, because we knew that this time things would go differently.”
The game started off with the teams very evenly matched, and it was still tied at the start of the fourth quarter, but two quick goals by the Tigers opened the game up a bit. The Terps managed to get the Tigers’ lead back down to one with four minutes left, but the Princeton defense held firm to secure the title.
“We controlled the flow of the game and never lost our cool, and came on so strong during the second half that Maryland could not match us,” Zak said. “At halftime we could feel the momentum shifting in our favor, and we knew it was ours to win.”
The Tigers showed that they can keep composure in close games, as their last two wins were both decided by a single goal.
“We were able to win close games because of our confidence,” Zak said. “We never accepted defeat even when we were down by a couple of goals. We had some of the younger girls step up at key moments and keep calm to get the goals we needed.”
The tournament win also marked the second Eastern Championships head coach Luis Nicolao has won this year, as he coached the men’s water polo team to an Eastern title and an NCAA Championships appearance in the fall.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/04/30/30814/