The field hockey team focused on teamwork for most of its game against No. 5 Maryland on Tuesday. Nonetheless, there are moments when a hero is needed, and when the Tigers needed a game-winning goal, sophomore midfielder Sydney Kirby stepped up to take on that role.
Kirby, in only her second game back with the Tigers since playing with the junior U.S. national team in Guadalajara, Mexico, scored her second goal of the season when Maryland goalie Natalie Hunter dove to block a shot, allowing Kirby to send a rebound into the back of the net with 20 minutes to play. It gave Princeton a 3-2 lead, which the hosts held for the rest of the game to outlast one of their toughest opponents of the season.
“We really missed her when she was in Mexico,” senior striker Kat Sharkey said. “She just brings so much energy and knowledge up front, and she knows how to put the ball in the net, and we really needed that.”
The Tigers (9-1 overall, 3-0 Ivy League) came in ranked fourth in the country after posting a 3-1 record against ranked opponents and losing only to No. 1 Syracuse, but there was no doubt that they would have their hands full with the No. 5 Terrapins (8-3), whose only two losses had come against teams ranked fifth and 10th.
“We’ve been able to make a lot of improvements since we played Syracuse,” head coach Kristin Holmes-Winn said. “They did a good job of exposing us, and it was great to see us fix some of those things in this type of game where [there were] similar stakes, similar quality.”
The Tigers drew first blood with 27 minutes to go in the first half when junior striker Michelle Cesan navigated the Terrapin defense for a close-range goal. Senior midfielder Katie Reinprecht nearly added to the lead just moments later but was denied by a diving stop from Hunter.
As the rain bore down, so did Maryland’s offense. Maryland’s Alyssa Parker broke through with 13 minutes left in the half to knot the score at 1-1.
Megan Frazer nearly struck again for the Terrapins less than two minutes later, when she appeared to have angled her shot perfectly on a penalty corner. Junior goalkeeper Christina Maida hit the ground with full extension, just managing to bat the ball away and keep the game tied.
The Tigers were close to pulling away late in the half, but a referee’s whistle just milliseconds before a Princeton goal stopped them from taking the lead. Maryland took advantage of its good fortune; less than a minute later, the Terrapins barreled down the field and scored before the Princeton defense could catch its breath.
In an attempt to even it up before the half, Sharkey came up with the ball and sprinted downfield with one minute left, accompanied only by a Maryland defender and Kirby. However, she could not get a shot off, and the Tigers went into the locker room down 2-1.
The Terrapins posed a consistent threat to the Tigers’ defenders, as Maida hit the ground again to block Maryland’s onslaught as the second half began. Throughout the game, junior midfielder Kelsey Byrne was instrumental in getting the ball away from Princeton’s goal and relieving the pressure.
Sharkey said that the Tigers never doubted their defense.
“They had been playing a great game,” she said. “I knew that they were focused and going to keep that ball out of the net for us. Maida was absolutely phenomenal in the net.”
The Tigers earned three penalty corners in a one-minute span early in the second half. The first two shots missed, but the third attempt by Sharkey went over Hunter’s head and into the net, tying the game.
Trying to answer quickly again, the Terrapins launched another attack, but Maida fell in the way of three shots on two corner attempts and the Tigers refused to cede momentum.
After Kirby, who has a knack for scoring game-winners — she had three difference-making goals in 2011 — made it a 3-2 game, Maryland got desperate. The visitors threatened on a penalty corner with 15 minutes to go, but were thwarted once more by Maida. Ten minutes later, they pulled Hunter to put on more pressure.
“We were, I think, matching their pace when we didn’t need to,” Holmes-Winn said of the last five minutes. “I think that’s something we’ll be able to take away from this game, just a little more composure in that stretch of the game.”
Though the Terrapins gave them a run for their money, the Tigers refused to yield, and when the clock ran out, they had earned a signature victory.
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Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/03/31350/