As May’s superlative weather heralds, it is NCAA tournament time for successful spring teams. Well-acquainted with success of late, No. 11/12 women’s lacrosse (14-3 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) has plenty cause for confidence heading into its NCAA tournament first-round matchup with Fairfield University (14-4, 7-1 Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference). Princeton carries a six-game win streak into the first-round matchup. What’s more, the Orange and Black has secured the program’s first perfect conference record since 2004 — that year, the Tigers fell to Virginia in the tournament semifinals — and its second-ever Ivy League tournament win.
The 2015 tournament championship came over perennial rival Penn and avenged last year’s final loss to the Quakers.
“It was definitely very satisfying,” junior defender Liz Bannantine said. “We knew going into the Ivy season that that was a goal for us. But a bigger goal was to beat every Ivy team. We treated every conference game as a sort of championship. But to end on the note that we did, beating a great overall team like Penn in the final, was icing on the cake.”
The Fairfield Stags, unranked in the coaches’ and Inside Lacrosse polls, earned an automatic bid thanks to their 9-7 defeat of Canisius in the MAAC tournament final.
The two sides have never met and do not share any common opponents from the 2015 season. Our old friend the Ratings Percentage Index (which ranks teams by wins and losses with reference to strength of schedule) locates Princeton at 10thin the nation and Fairfield at 30th.
On her team’s poise approaching the matchup, Bannantine said, “It’s higher than I’ve ever experienced going into the tournament. Winning the Ivy tournament and the Ivy League so decisively has definitely given us that boost of confidence. Having confidence in each other and knowing that we are a formidable opponent is something that helps us. But we know we can’t be overly confident, because every team we face is going to be good.”
Stony Brook University will provide the venue for the matchup between these conference champions, with the winner earning the right to challenge the America East champion Seawolves in round two. Should the Tigers advance, they will have a quick turnaround before challenging Stony Brook, another new opponent for Princeton.
“[The second round] is definitely on everyone’s mind,” Bannantine said. “Because while we know that we can’t overlook Fairfield, we have to be realistic and know that we have to prepare for another opponent in Stony Brook. They have a lot of weapons on their team: a lot of fast kids, very athletic. But we have to stick to our game plan, because I think that we’re peaking at the right moment.”
In last year’s NCAA tournament, the Tigers contested with then No. 8 Penn State and No. 11 Virginia in rematches of regular season meetings. As clichéd as it is to point out the difficulty of beating a team twice in the same season, reality brought the pundits’ adage to bear in the 2014 Princeton postseason. First, Ivy League rival Penn took revenge for their 6-9 regular season loss at Class of 1952 Stadium with a 9-6 win over the Orange and Black in the conference tournament final. Thanks to their overall body of work, the Tigers received an at-large bid and looked to face Penn State, which had taken its regular season finale meeting by a score of 13-12. Princeton reversed its previous outcome with a 16-13 NCAA tournament first round win, its first since 2011. Virginia, who lost at 1952 Stadium earlier in the 2014 season, emerged from the ensuing round with a 13-11 home win.
This storyline will be absent from Friday’s tilt on Long Island. Present and impactful will be Princeton’s senior duo of midfielder Erin Slifer and attacker Erin McMunn. Ivy League Midfielder honors came for Slifer, whose pace and power compliment the finesse and vision of her attacker classmate.
Sophomore Olivia Hompe joins McMunn up front. A unanimous all-Ivy first team selection, the second-year standout tied for team lead with 63 points on 40 goals and 23 assists. Bannantine described the underclassman as a complete player with “incredible stick skills” who “knows where to be at the right time.”
On the other side of the field, Princeton’s sophomore goalkeeper Ellie DeGarmo has started 16 of the 17 contests she has appeared in. She boats a save percentage of 46.0 along with a 9.16 goal against average.
“She has absolutely sparked our defense this year,” Bannantine explained. “I knew as a freshman that she was going to be a playmaker throughout her career here. She makes those saves that you’re not supposed to make and is also solid on the ones you’re supposed to. That spark carries all the way through to the attack.”
One outstanding feature in Fairfield’s résumé is its perfect 7-0 away record, contrasting with its 6-4 home record.
On the somewhat novel situation of facing a new opponent, Bannantine said, “We’re doing the same things we usually do: scouting them, making a game plan for what to expect. But we’re definitely going to focus on our game first. And we know that we can’t take them lightly. They’re obviously in the tournament for a reason.”
The Stags have limited opponents to an incredibly stingy 6.83 goals per game while notching 9.89 per game themselves. A shot disparity of 406-337 gives good account of this differential. However, the performance of junior goalkeeper Chelsey Sidaras has been instrumental in keeping Fairfield’s opponents off the board. The New York native earned all-MAAC first team honors for the second straight year thanks to her save percentage of 53.5, a mark good for second best nationally.
Also featured on the all-MAAC first team was senior Fairfield midfielder Meghan Reda. A standout defender in 2014, Reda has continued to disrupt opponents’ possession in her final year. Her 28 caused turnovers and 43 ground balls lead the Stags.
Action is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Friday.