With the 2018 season already underway, the No. 25 women’s soccer team (5–2–1) is looking to repeat last year’s Ivy League and NCAA success. With six new team members and a successful preseason, the Tigers are set to remain champions for a second year in a row.
The Tigers have played eight games this season, beginning their campaign in late August. They won five games against New Hampshire, Boston University, Saint Joseph’s, Rider, and Hofstra. They lost to opponents North Carolina State and Georgetown, then ranked No. 13 and No. 10 respectively, and tied Drexel 0–0.
This year’s new members — midfielder Caroline Noonan, defender Aza Keohan, forward and midfielder Amy Paternoster, forward Gabi Juarez, midfielder and defender Emma Davis, and goalkeeper Grace Barbara — have big shoes to fill from last year.
The team lost seven seniors, including last year’s star midfielder Vanessa Gregoire, all of whom head coach Sean Driscoll described as “a really good bunch.” These seniors led Princeton to the top of the Ivy League and to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual runner-up UCLA.
Driscoll is confident in this year’s roster, however, after the successful start to the year.
“We have a brand-new squad and are very talented,” he said. “We have a much better feel for the team now.”
But the new team still has a way to go in order to return to last year’s unbelievable form.
“We need to improve on our goal-scoring, which is odd to say when you have so many prolific scorers, but we need to get a little better in that record,” the coach said. “Once we can take care of that piece, we can be really good because we move the ball really well, our defending is getting better, and we have a really talented team.”
Reclaiming the Ivy League championship is going to be no easy task. This season will be especially difficult, according to the head coach, because of the team’s previous successes, one of its biggest threats to winning again.
“The challenge the team has is that they play with a bull’s-eye on their back,” he said. “Not only do they go to Princeton, but also, because of what we accomplished last year and because of the ranking we have had in the country, to start the season you’re going to get other teams’ best games.”
The Tigers were the top pick to win the Ivy League this season, according to a preseason poll taken by athletic communications representatives and media members from each school. Princeton garnered 15 first-place votes, compared to Columbia’s one vote. The pressure is on for the team to live up to expectations, and opponents know this.
“We have a lot of votes to win the league this year, so I think they’re going to use that as their locker room fodder,” the head coach acknowledged. “They respect the fact that we can attack well, and I think they’ll do their best to test our ‘younger’ defensive positions.”
The Ivy League championship was not decided going into the last weekend of the 2017 season, with Columbia and Brown eager to overtake Princeton for the title. They were unsuccessful but gave the Tigers something to worry about.
Both teams pose threats again to Tiger domination this year.
“Columbia has become a team that has become really difficult to deal with. They’ve had our number the last few years — we’ve lost to them the last two years,” said Driscoll. Princeton lost 0–2 to the Lions in Princeton last year and 0–2 in New York the year before.
“Brown is extremely athletic,” he added. The Tigers beat the Bears 2–1 in a close game in Providence last season.
But winning is an expectation, not a hope, with this squad. This year’s goals include not only winning the League title again, but also representing the school again in the tournament, this time as national champions.
And which game is Coach Driscoll most excited for?
“Always the next one.”
The Tigers take on Yale this weekend in New Haven and host Dartmouth next weekend at home.