On Sunday, No. 4 Princeton field hockey posted a dramatic comeback win over No. 6 Harvard to reach the NCAA Final Four. On Friday, the Tigers topped No. 13 Virginia as they played host to the NCAA Tournament’s early rounds. It will be Princeton’s second trip to the Final Four in three years.
It was a drizzly fall Friday as the team began tournament play in front of an enthusiastic crowd. At the half, the score was 1–1 thanks to a goal by sophomore striker Clara Roth — her 13th of the season. Princeton’s offense came out strong in the second half, controlling the ball and slipping some long passes through the opposing team for breakaways, but the crowning moment of the game came with about 23 minutes left.
As the referees reviewed a play, the Tigers gathered at midfield. The Tornetta sisters — Sophia, a senior striker, and Julianna, a sophomore midfielder — were first to talk. What they were drawing up was anyone’s guess. Princeton was granted the corner, but failed to come together on two consecutive attempts. On the Tigers’ third shot, senior midfielder Elise Wong teed the ball in to Julianna Tornetta, who faked a shot, but then slipped a no-look pass behind her back to junior fullback Maddie Bacskai, whose perfect touch sent the ball to the back of the net.
Princeton would outshoot the Cavaliers 8–0 in the second half and come away with a 2–1 victory, making this the third straight year that Princeton has eliminated Virginia in the NCAA Tournament. All this set the Tigers up with a revenge date against Harvard in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
The weather Sunday was classic for a fall day in New Jersey — sunny, but a brisk 46 degrees — and the game would prove to be a classic, too. The crowd filled a sold-out Bedford Field and kept the energy up during an aggressive but scoreless first half. Harvard’s Kathleen Young got her team on the board first, with just seven minutes gone in the second half. The Crimson’s strong passing play was on display as Princeton fought to maintain possession of the ball.
The Tigers’ breakthrough came at the 11:34 mark, as Roth earned a penalty stroke. Julianna Tornetta lined up to take it, and played a perfect shot just to the left of the Harvard goalie. The fast, aggressive play continued from there. Princeton received a corner and tried the same play that earned them the win over Virginia. That shot didn’t go through, but thankfully another opportunity would arise.
With just 5:09 left to play, Princeton lined up a corner, which Roth sent in to Wong, who then laid it up for Julianna Tornetta. Two touches and Tornetta tapped it over to Bacskai, who sent it home, hard off the backboard, for a 2–1 lead. Harvard immediately called a timeout, but wasn’t able to regroup.
As the final horn sounded, the Tigers dropped their sticks and ran to celebrate with each other. Even head coach Carla Tagliente joined the mosh pit.
“Since I’ve come here, I’ve been surrounded by great people,” said Tagliente. “It’s not just my accomplishment. I feel very lucky and privileged to work with the student-athletes that we have. I’m fortunate every day I’m here. We have a special group of players. I have the best job, just standing back and watching them achieve this.”
Princeton will now travel to Louisville, Ky., to face second-seeded Maryland in the Final Four at Trager Stadium on Nov. 16. The Terrapins beat the Tigers 5–4 in double overtime back in September. Regardless, though, Princeton is now one step closer to its season-long goal, so plainly stated by junior fullback Carlotta von Gierke: “to win a National Championship.”
No. 1 North Carolina and No. 12 Wake Forest remain on the other half of the bracket. The winners of these two semifinals will play on Nov. 18 for the right to be called 2018 National Champions.