Women's Lacrosse: Seniors hope to lead Tigers to tournament
“We’ve learned that it is important to keep working throughout the entire season and that, hopefully, our hard work in the fall and winter will pay off during important games this spring,” junior midfielder Sarah Lloyd said.
In just eight weeks, the Tigers will play 15 regular season games, seven at home and eight on the road. The seven Ivy League opponents are distributed throughout March and April, with eight non-conference challengers filling out the schedule.
“We only have a 15-game season, so every game is critical,” head coach Chris Sailer said. “We can’t have slip-ups and expect to make the tournament. We choose to challenge ourselves with our non-conference schedule and have some top teams to face.”
The Tigers have big expectations for this season. The players and coaches agree that finishing first in the Ivy League, as well as winning the Ivy League tournament, are top priorities
“We are working hard to be able to do this,” Sailer said. “But we are in a very difficult conference in women’s lacrosse, and it is not an easy challenge.”
An alternative route to the NCAA tournament is to win an at-large bid by being one of the top teams in the country. In the past, the NCAA tournament only had room for 16 teams, but for the first time, this year’s number has been expanded to 26. Thirteen teams will qualify as the winner of their individual conferences, and the other 13 will be selected based on their regular season performances. The tournament chose to increase the number of qualifying teams to reflect the growth in the number of Division I programs.
As the fall and winter offseasons come to a close, the team is pleased with where it stands. A highlight of the offseason preparation was a weeklong trip to Malta and England that provided additional opportunities for team bonding off the field, as well as international competitions and additional practices.
“The team is tight. They are on the same page, they have great chemistry and they are all motivated,” Sailer said. “This year there has been a more seamless transition from out-of-season to in-season.”
Leading the Tigers are senior co-captains Jaci Gassaway and Caroline Rehfuss. Gassaway led Princeton last season in scoring with 54 points and is expected to make big contributions again this year. Rehfuss is a smart and dependable defender, finishing last season with 11 caused turnovers, 15 ground balls and five draw controls.
“Our leadership is excellent,” Sailer said. “Our captains are awesome. They’ve done a great job leading the team and setting the example, tone and right culture, and everyone else has jumped on board. The seniors as a class are very strong.”
Offensively, sophomore Erin McMunn will rejoin Gassaway as an offensive threat this season. Last year, she led the team in assists, and she has shown continued dominance on the field during pre-season. Playing with this duo up front, senior Sam Ellis and junior Mary-Kate Sivilli bring experience to the offensive unit. Also vying for starting spots and playing time on the attack are junior Grace Bowen, sophomore Erika Grabbi and freshmen Alexandra Bruno, Anya Gersoff and Stephanie Paloscio. Bruno was ranked No. 3 in the Top 25 Rising Freshmen list produced by Inside Lacrosse magazine this summer. Gersoff played for the Princeton field hockey team last fall.
In the midfield, Princeton has three dynamic players returning to the lineup. Junior Sarah Lloyd and sophomore Erin Slifer took a majority of the center circle draws last season. Lloyd led the team with 43 draw controls and was fifth in scoring, fourth in ground balls and second in caused turnovers. Slifer grabbed 35 draws, 12 ground balls and 10 goals. Looking to get in the mix with the midfield this year are freshman Anna Menke, sophomore Blake Dietrick and junior Kellie Ragg. During preseason, Menke proved to be a force on the circle. Dietrick also plays as a guard for the basketball team and will join the lacrosse team once her winter obligations are finished.
Experienced junior Colleen Smith, who played in every game last season and proved to be an aggressive defender, scooping up 12 ground balls and eight draws and causing five turnovers, joins Rehfuss on the defensive line for the Tigers.
“This year’s freshmen are doing really great,” Lloyd said. “They’re contributing in practice, and, for sure, will improve the team this year on and off the field. They have the potential to really impact our season.”
Back in goal this year, sophomore Annie Woehling will be a strong last line of defense for the Tigers. Stepping up and filling the big shoes left by her predecessor, Woehling was a reliable goalkeeper last year and started every game. She finished the season with 101 saves, a 9.5 goals against average and a .412 save percentage. Junior Caroline Franke is a dependable backup goalie and brings both skill and experience to practice and games.
Back at the helm for her 27th season with the Tigers, head coach Chris Sailer brings experience and dedication to this program. Her three national championships, nine Ivy League titles and three Coach of the Year awards are only a few of her impressive accolades. With 322 wins, Sailer is the second most-winning active Division I coach. Joining Sailer on the coaching staff this year are two new assistants. Jenn Cook, a former ACC player and coach at UNC, will serve primarily as the defensive and draw circle coordinator and will be an invaluable asset to the team. Anne Murray ’09, a former Princeton attacker, is the first alumna of the program to work as a paid coach with Sailer. She brings an insider’s knowledge about what it takes to be a student-athlete at Princeton, as well as experience playing on some great, past Princeton teams.
“They’ve been great. They bring a lot of energy, some new ideas, and are really working hard,” Sailer said. “The team seems to be receptive of what they are bringing in. I couldn’t be happier. The staff has great chemistry, like the team does.”
“The [new coaches] are really great, and the team likes their coaching style and approach to the season so far,” Lloyd said. “We are all really excited to have them.”
The Tigers are excited to open regular season competition, hosting Villanova this Saturday. Last year, Princeton dominated the opener against the Wildcats 16-3, giving them positive momentum and confidence heading into the remainder of their season.
“We’re pumped for our first game,” Lloyd said. “Hopefully we will perform like last year.”
“We’re really excited,” Sailer said. “There is a lot of preparation, practice and waiting. The first game is special as it is the start of something new.”
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