Many of the fall Princeton sports teams have had great success so far this season. Multiple Tiger teams are ranked — some for the first time — and our teams are playing and competing at an elite level in many different sports. However, quite possibly the best fall storyline to date comes from the women’s soccer team and its incredible run through non-conference play.
The Tigers entered this year with what seemed to be a very daunting task: Taking a team that finished fifth place in the Ivy League last season and running through a gauntlet of ranked superpowers on their way to competing for the Ivy League’s top spot. A team that played well on offense — its 11-goal record during Ivy League play last season was a league high — the Tigers were hoping that they could rely on that same potent office and a stronger defense to help them improve on last season’s mark.
But not many people expected what the Tigers have done to date. This season, Princeton currently sits at 7–1, its lone loss to then-No. 6 West Virginia, which was last year’s NCAA runner-up. Our strong offensive firepower has led it to two or more goals in seven of its eight games. Perhaps most impressive of all though is the defense; the Tigers have thus far given up only two goals. They have shut out six of the eight opponents they have played so far, including starting the season with five consecutive shutouts. All of this has Princeton currently ranked No. 16 in the latest NCAA coaches’ poll, its highest mark since 2004 when it finished the season at No. 4. “We’ve got a good rotation of kids and people that are willing to do whatever it takes when they get on the field, and this team wants to grind,” commented head coach Sean Driscoll. “I think if you’re willing to grind, you’ve got a chance to do well.”
Perhaps the highlight of the non-conference slate was the road trip to North Carolina the Tigers took right before the academic year began. Facing back-to-back ranked teams, the Tigers downed North Carolina State and Wake Forest each by a score of 2–0. A road trip that wasn’t supposed to end well for the Tigers instead put the women’s soccer world on notice.
“We came down here and we knew we were kind of in an underdog position, but we believed in ourselves and what we can do,” noted junior forward Mimi Asom. “And we knew that even if everyone else didn’t think it was likely that we were going to come out victorious, we knew that it was completely possible for us.”
Following this performance by the Tigers was a showdown against No. 6 West Virginia, a team that defeated the Tigers handily last year by a score of 3–0. This year, the Tigers looked to turn the tables and keep their undefeated season alive. Unfortunately, the Mountaineer defense was too much to overcome and the Tigers were shut out for the first time this season 1–0. But even during that defeat, head coach Sean Driscoll noted his team’s ability to get into the ring with anyone and put up a good fight. “I think our team definitely can compete,” he said. “I think when we roll up our sleeves and get to work we can go out there and compete with anyone.”
The next test for the Tigers comes in the form of Ivy League play. After their hot start to the season, Princeton suddenly finds itself not as an underdog looking to make some noise, but as a competitor vying for the top spot in the league. Princeton gets its Ivy League schedule rolling with Yale this weekend; currently no members of the team have lost to Yale as Princeton is 2-0-1 in their last 3 meetings. During last year’s 1–1 draw, sophomore Abby Givens scored for the Tigers. This year, the sophomore forward already has six goals — doubling her total from last year — and was one of three consecutive Tigers that earned Ivy League Player of the Week earlier this season. Givens is currently second in the Ivy League in scoring, behind Brown’s Mikaela Waldman. The Tigers will look to continue the phenomenal goaltending play by sophomore Natalie Grossi, whose .286 Goals Against Average is currently 10th in the nation, while also leading Princeton to the top 15 nationally in shutouts, goals allowed, and save percentage.
Yale serves as the first Ivy League test this season for the Tigers. All eyes will be on Princeton as they enter conference play, for if it continues to perform at the high level it’s at now, a first place finish — and maybe even a trip to the national tournament — is something that is certainly within reach.