“I think it says a lot about our character and the team we had,” head coach Chris Sailer said. “We knew there was no postseason for us, and the kids took that hard, but we were able to regroup and got one last chance to play together. I was happy for the team and for the seniors that they got the win.”
Though it took a little while for the Tigers to get on the board, they dominated scoring in the middle of the game, building a large lead that prevented a strong Penn State comeback bid from taking away their final season victory. The Nittany Lions started off the game with two free positions and one run of play goal to pull ahead by three in the opening quarter, but Princeton responded with three goals within three minutes to even the score. Junior attacker Jaci Gassaway was assisted by freshman attacker Erin McMunn on the first, senior attacker Barb Previ struck for the second, and Gassaway finished unassisted to grab the third. Neither squad found the back of the net for the 10 minutes leading into the half, ending the first half tied 3-3.
“I think we made some great adjustments on defense, and when we’ve been able to adjust to the opponent’s game plan in mid-game, we’ve always been successful with the result,” Previ said. “I also think that we pushed the tempo and controlled the game on attack by scoring in a variety of ways. We also outnumbered Penn State on draw controls, which can determine who wins the game based upon possession time.”
The second half saw both teams finishing more frequently, notching eight goals apiece to send the game into overtime. Princeton opened the half by continuing the scoring momentum from earlier, adding the first three goals in a span of less than four minutes, with scores by junior defender Caroline Rehfuss, Gassaway and junior midfielder Charlotte Davis. Penn State momentarily stopped the Tigers’ scoring streak with one goal to cut the lead to two, but Princeton quickly responded with three more goals. Sophomore midfielder Sarah Lloyd converted a free position, McMunn fed Gassaway, and freshman midfielder Erin Slifer hit Davis to put the Tigers ahead 9-4.
Penn State began a fierce comeback in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Previ and McMunn each added a goal for Princeton, but the Nittany Lions found the back of the net seven times, including twice in the final two minutes. With the score tied at 11, Penn State forced overtime.
McMunn and Gassaway, the same pair responsible for two of the Tigers’ earlier goals, worked together to strike the first overtime goal for Gassaway’s fifth goal of the day. However, the Nittany Lions responded, evening the score at 12 with a goal from attacker Maggie McCormick. With only 17 seconds left, Davis completed her hat trick, lifting the Tigers to their final victory of the 2012 season.
“I think that we were very happy to have ended the way we did,” Previ said. “Penn State was a good challenge for us, and defeating them was very satisfying to us as a whole. I also think that our team remains one of the best, though some games and circumstances hadn’t gone our way this season.”
Princeton has had a well-balanced attack throughout the season, depending on several players to contribute goals and assists in every game. The offensive leaders were Gassaway (38 goals, 16 assists), Cassie Pyle (38 goals, 8 assists), McMunn (18 goals, 30 assists), Davis (20 goals, 5 assists) and Lloyd (17 goals, 5 assists). With so many dominant threats, the opponent’s defense could not focus all their efforts on shutting down just one or two key players. Lloyd, Slifer, Gassaway and senior defender Lindsay deButts were responsible for many of the Tigers’ draw controls.
In the back, an experienced midfield and defense helped protect freshman goalie Annie Woehling. Woehling finishes the season with 101 saves and a 9.5 goals against average. Along with Woehling, the players scooping up the most ground balls were Lloyd, deButts and senior defender Cathy Bachur. Rehfuss, deButts, Pyle and Lloyd caused the most turnovers by applying intense pressure on the ball carriers.
“This year’s senior class was very strong, and they will be missed,” Sailer said. “We lose our most decorated defensive player, one of our leading scorers, four of our starters. We look for the young kids to come in and make contributions from the start and for the current players to step up and take on new roles on the team.”
In a season filled with ups and downs, the lack of consistency was reflected in the Tigers’ conference record. Losses to Cornell and Harvard earlier in the season left the Penn matchup as the deciding game to see if Princeton could qualify for the tournament. Despite winning the Ivy tournament as a No.4-seeded underdog just a year ago, the Tigers will not get a chance to repeat this excitement again this season.
“We grew as a team over the course of this season,” Sailer said. “We were playing our best lacrosse at the end of the year, so it is disappointing that it’s over. We struggled with playing strong consistently.”
“Overall we’ve had a challenging year,” Previ said. “We had lofty goals and were not able to really reach our potential, so I think that can always be a bit disappointing. I think our record reflects a mediocre season for what could have been a great team. Nonetheless, I think we still had a lot of fun and grew a lot as players over the course of the year.”
After opening the season with a big win over Villanova, Princeton fell in the next game to Rutgers in overtime. A respectable loss to then-No. 5 Duke sparked the team’s three-game win streak with victories over Brown, Columbia and then-No. 10 Virginia. The win over Virginia was the Tigers' first defeat of a ranked opponent this season.
Two one-goal losses to then-No. 20 Johns Hopkins and then-No. 18 Cornell set Princeton at 4-4 halfway through the season. Another one-goal game, this time a win against Temple, and a substantial defeat of Yale gave Princeton two more wins. Tough losses to then-No. 4 Maryland and Harvard sent the Tigers into the final stretch of the season with an even 6-6 record.
The final two Ivy League games were crucial in determining the tournament rankings. Upsetting then-No. 8 Dartmouth, the Tigers kept their postseason dreams alive, but falling to then-No. 10 Penn the next week ended those tournament hopes.
“Our best win was the Dartmouth game,” Sailer said. “It was a must-win, critical game. We played well in every aspect. There was a lot riding on that game, and it was a great performance by the team.”
The Penn State overtime victory was reflective of the season as a whole in many ways with a close score, the Tigers beating a ranked opponent and six different players contributing goals.
“This year will serve as a reminder that we have to fight every day,” Sailer said. “Every game is important. This season will make us hungrier and motivate us for next year.”
“Everyone will miss the team the most, and everything that goes along with it,” Previ said, speaking on behalf of the Class of 2012. “It’s hard to explain what being an athlete on campus is without acknowledging the fact that your teammates make the entire experience as rewarding as it is. It’s hard to pick one memory, but thinking of this team and this group as a whole will always be a great memory in my lacrosse experience.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/05/02/30862/