What happened Saturday night no one could have predicted. The No. 11 Tigers — winners of five straight matches and heavy front runners for the Ivy League women's soccer title — were upset at home by Columbia 2-0. There is no way to describe it other than as a shocking upset; the Lions did come into the game undefeated in conference play as well, but many saw the Tigers as a dominant, perhaps even an unstoppable, force in the Ivy League. Princeton got blitzed by Columbia; the Lions scored two goals in the first 11 minutes of the game and the Orange and Black could not manage a retaliatory score despite having 21 shots on goal. Now, the Tigers are left to lick their wounds and respond with a strong showing in their final games. Despite, the loss, the Tigers can still claim the Ivy League title and even a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at the current situation for the Tigers and their outlook for the rest of the season.
: After their loss to Columbia, the Tigers now sit at 3-1 in league play, tallying nine points, which is good enough for second in the Ivy League. League-leading Columbia — winners of five straight — now have a 4-0 conference record and 12 points. Princeton has a two point lead over Yale and Penn, who both currently have seven points. Each of these teams has three games remaining in their Ivy League schedule. By beating Princeton, Columbia is in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the season to clinch the Ivy League title.
The Tigers have games each Saturday from now until November 4th. They will travel to Harvard this weekend, host Cornell October 28th and travel to Philadelphia to play Penn in their final regular season game. Meanwhile, Columbia travels to Dartmouth this weekend before heading home for its final two games against Yale and Harvard. Looking at the two teams directly below Princeton, Yale and Penn will play this weekend in a game that will probably decide who the final contender for the Ivy League title is going to be.
Because each team in the Ivy League plays every other team only once, the Tigers are in a tough position to try and catch Columbia. The Tigers trail the Lions by three points — a whole win — and have lost the tiebreaker as well. Thus, the Tigers will have to theoretically gain four points on the Lions in the final three weeks to win the Ivy League title. Princeton really cannot afford another loss if they want to compete for the title. They’ll have to beat a tough Harvard team on the road this weekend and then in three weeks go up against Penn, which may be fighting for second or even first place in the Ivy League. In terms of scoreboard watching, the Tigers will have to hope that Columbia loses one at home to either Yale or Harvard and then ties the other. Fortunately for the Tigers, they have already won their matchup against Yale, who played them extremely tough earlier in the season. If the Bulldogs can bring that same fight to New York City, they may become Princeton’s best friend, if only for a day. Then, it will come down to which team plays better against the Crimson, who represented the Ivy League in last year’s NCAA tournament.
While their Ivy League chances took a big hit with the loss, the Tigers’ hopes of making the NCAA tournament remain relatively unchanged. After the loss, the Tigers dropped from No. 11 to No. 17 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll. The Tigers also come in with the seventh hardest schedule in the nation, according to the latest women’s soccer RPI. With quality road wins against a ranked NC State squad and a Wake Forest team currently No. 15 in the poll, in addition to a respectable 1-0 defeat at the hands of No. 7 West Virginia, the Tigers have a pretty strong resume as it stands. None of this will come into play if the Tigers can overtake Columbia; the team that wins the Ivy League receives an automatic birth to the NCAA tournament. However, even if Princeton does not win the Ivy League, their resume should get them into the tournament as an at large bid, albeit probably at a lower seed than if they were to win the Ivy League. The big thing the Tigers cannot do is lose another game; losing one game to the eventual Ivy League champion would not be all that drastic of a loss, but a loss to any of their three remaining opponents would seriously hurt their chances their second tournament berth in three years.
At this point, there is nothing the Tigers can do except play the same effective style they have been all season. If Princeton plays as well as it started to finish out the season — and there is little reason to think otherwise — then the Tigers should still be able to achieve the goals they set out to achieve earlier in the year. While the Tigers may have things a bit harder now, anyone on the team will tell you they are up for the challenge and are going to give it their all in these final three weeks to try and reclaim the Ivy League title.