Women's Soccer: NCAA victory extends Princeton's win streak to 12 straight
After dominating Ivy League play with a 7-0 record, the women’s soccer team found itself in a more challenging position on Saturday against West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers staged attack after attack, but each time the Tigers’ defense held strong against the Big 12 powerhouse. Thanks to a fantastic performance from senior goalie Claire Pincario and efficient execution by its offense, Princeton pulled out a 2-1 win to keep its postseason alive.
The Tigers (14-3-1 overall) knew that No. 21 West Virginia (11-5-4) would be a tough opponent, but surprisingly Princeton took the upper hand less than five minutes into the first half, when sophomore forward Lynessa McGee’s shot from 16 yards out deflected off a Mountaineer defender and into the top right corner of the net.
“We weren’t expecting to score so early,” senior defender Alison Nabatoff said. “We were very excited, but at the same time we knew that we had 85 minutes left in the game to play, so our celebration wasn’t too great. We ran back and got back to business.”
Five minutes later, the Tigers almost scored again when senior forward Jen Hoy took a shot that hit the crossbar. After that opportunity, however, the Princeton offense only managed three more shots as the Mountaineers took control of the rest of the half. West Virginia constantly pressured Princeton’s defense, taking 11 shots and earning five corner kicks, yet the team couldn’t convert. The Mountaineers were definitely unlucky, in that two of their shots hit the crossbar, but that is not to undervalue the performance of Pincario, who made six saves to maintain Princeton’s lead going into halftime.
The second half started much the same as the first, with another Princeton goal in the opening minutes. Senior midfielder Caitlin Blosser collected a ball at midfield and then sent a perfect pass up to an advancing Hoy on the right flank. The senior used her speed to catch up to the ball and outrun a defender. Mountaineers goalie Sara Keane came out to challenge, but Hoy swiftly maneuvered around her and sent the ball into the open net to give the Tigers a much-needed insurance goal.
Several minutes later, the Tigers received a scare when McGee, the hero of the Tigers’ first goal, remained on the ground for several minutes after colliding with a West Virginia player. McGee ultimately had to be taken off the field on a stretcher, but she is expected to play in the Tigers’ next game, Nabatoff said.
For the rest of the second half, the Princeton defense settled down and did a much better job of controlling the ball. The Mountaineers’ offense could not find the same rhythm, as the Tigers closed down the passing lanes and broke up West Virginia’s possessions.
Princeton seemed to have the game wrapped up, but sensing this, West Virginia inserted a fourth forward up front with 18 minutes left to play. About 10 minutes later, the Mountaineers finally broke through when Frances Silva headed in a cross from Kelsie Maloney to bring the game within one goal.
All of a sudden, the momentum was in West Virginia’s favor as the home crowd got back into the game. The Mountaineers continued to beef up their front line and continued pressing with three more shots, but each was off the mark. Shortly after the whistle blew, and the Tigers got revenge on the Mountaineers, who had beaten Princeton four years ago in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers have now won 12 straight games and will face No. 4-seed Marquette (17-2-2) on Thursday in Utah.
“It means a lot to the Ivy League to get a win in the first round of the tournament,” Nabatoff said. “We are looking for more than a first-round win, though. We are hoping to beat out Marquette and we know we have the personnel to do it, so we just need to focus on that now.”
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