Women’s soccer (11–3–2 overall, 5–1–1 Ivy) edged out Penn (13–2–1 overall, 5–1–1 Ivy) on Saturday 1–0, earning the Tigers the title of co-champion of the Ivy League and securing a berth to the NCAA Division I Tournament. This is the second year in a row that the team has won the conference and advanced to the tournament.
The Tigers finished this year’s conference season 5–1–1, closing out the season with a four-game win streak against Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and Penn.
The team needed to win on Saturday to earn a share of the title as well as a chance at a tournament slot. In the event of co-winners of the Ivy League, the head-to-head winner is used to determine who advances to the NCAA tournament, rather than goal differential. This put extra pressure on the Tigers. A win was crucial for not just the league championship, but also for the second year in a row of tournament play.
The pressure on both teams resulted in a hotly contested match.
“It was typical of a must-win game. Very emotional and very physical,” said head coach Sean Driscoll. “It’s not very often that there is a championship game in the Ivy League like Saturday’s.”
From the starting whistle, the game was a back-and-forth between the two teams. Both teams had shots on goal and numerous fouls until the 31st minute, when senior forward Mimi Asom scored Princeton’s only championship goal in the game. Asom took control of a long ball from Princeton’s defensive half while under pressure from Penn defense. She cut right and hit a rocket on the ground across the goal box, hitting net in the bottom left corner.
Asom’s goal on Saturday moved her into third place for most points in a career, with 95. She overtook Linda DeBoer ’86. She currently sits in third place for most goals in a career, as well, at 43 goals.
The half saw four shots for the Tigers and three for Penn. Both teams’ keepers had two saves each. Penn committed nine fouls, one more than Princeton’s eight in the first 45.
The second half was even more competitive than the first. Penn threw eight shots at Princeton, but none of them found the net. The Tigers had six shots in the second half but were unable to increase their lead.
The Tigers held out and finished the game 1–0. Princeton keeper Natalie Grossi had yet another clean sheet during the game and saved four shots. Saturday marked Grossi’s 25th career clean sheet and her 10th this season. She currently holds the record for most shutouts in program history.
Princeton will face Texas Tech on Friday evening for the first round of the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech finished its season 13–5–2 and 5–3–1 in the Big 12.
“They are very athletic and have great front-runners. They run a 4–4–2 formation which will be challenging for us, especially dangerous in the final third,” said Driscoll. “But this is a great opportunity for us — we like to travel and do really well on the road.”
At the beginning of this year’s season, Driscoll noted that the team faced an uphill battle for the Ivy League championship due to its success last year. They had a bull’s-eye on their back. Now that the regular season was a total success and is over, the team can relax a little bit.
“Winning the league can be a big relief especially with the pressure we had,” the coach added. “The NCAA tournament becomes even more fun because you are not just representing your school, but are showing the country what the Ivy League is capable of.”
This is Driscoll’s third NCAA tournament and Ivy League championship in his four years as Princeton coach.
“The Elite Eight last year was amazing and definitely the greatest experience I’ve had as a coach,” he said.
Despite a very quick turnaround and a difficult travel schedule this week, the coach is sure that the team will perform well.
“We just need to have fun, enjoy the game, and embrace the spotlight. The [players’] success this season has been a testament to their character, quality, and talent,” said Driscoll.