Despite starting off strong with a 5–1 lead, No. 16 Princeton women’s lacrosse (0–1 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) fell to the No. 13 Virginia Cavaliers (3–0, 0–0 Atlantic Coast) in their 2023 season opener at Sherrerd Field and their first game under new head coach Jenn Cook on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Last season, Princeton beat Virginia 17–11. However, this season the Tigers are a much different team, dealing with the challenge of replacing their all-time leading scorer and 2022 Ivy League Attacker of the Year, Kyla Sears ’22, and 2022 Ivy League Goalkeeper of the Year, Sam Fish ’22.
Cook replaced former coach Chris Sailer, who announced her retirement at the end of the 2022 season after 36 years as head coach. Sailer shepherded the team to three NCAA championships and 15 Ivy League titles.
“Playing division one lacrosse means that every year brings new teammates and talents,” sophomore midfielder Nina Montes told The Daily Princetonian. “It also gives upperclassmen opportunities to step into new roles on the team. We have an awesome [first-year] class that has brought so much energy and hard work to the team, and we have incredible leadership in our seniors and coaches. I’m really excited to watch our team develop over the course of this season.”
The Tigers opened Saturday’s game with four consecutive goals starting with first-year attacker Jami MacDonald’s first career goal, shortly followed by goals from Montes, junior midfielder Kari Buonanno, and a second goal from Montes.
In the final ten minutes of the first period, MacDonald, assisted by Montes, scored a fifth goal for the Tigers. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers scored four times, bringing the score to 5–4 Princeton.
Virginia opened the second period with a goal, tying up the game at 5–5. Shortly afterward, junior attacker Grace Tauckus scored a goal for the Tigers. Over the course of five minutes, the Cavaliers managed to accumulate four goals in a row, putting Princeton in a three-point deficit.
With three and a half minutes left in the second period, sophomore midfielder McKenzie Blake, scored a goal for Princeton; however, the Cavaliers closed out the second with their sixth goal of the period, 30 seconds before the buzzer.
Heading into the second half, with Virginia’s 16 shots on goal and Princeton’s 12, possession was key. Despite the Cavaliers dominating possession in the first couple of minutes, first-year goalie Amelia Hughes held out with three huge saves at the beginning of the third quarter.
However, Virginia ultimately maintained control and dominated the third quarter, scoring a total of eight goals, while the Tigers fought hard on defense to little avail.
The Tigers, down 18–7, came into the fourth quarter needing to close a formidable gap. After 12 minutes of slightly more balanced possession, Montes was able to find an opening, and, with a pass from Tauckus, she scored her third goal of the game, bringing the score to 18–8.
With eight and a half minutes left in the fourth and another goal from Virginia, Princeton needed to put the pressure on. A centering pass from Montes set McKenzie up with a wide-open net, allowing the Tigers to score another goal, bringing the score to 19–9.
With four minutes left, Virginia scored once, and the Tigers scored twice. One goal came from Buonanno, her second of the day. Montes produced her fourth with less than 30 seconds left in the game, fighting her way through Virginia’s defense to win Princeton one last goal, ending the game on a positive note.
“We always want to win, but it wasn’t in the cards for us on Saturday,” said Montes. “That being said, there was a lot that we could take away from the game, and I am confident that our team will succeed in the future.”
Despite a challenging start to the season against a strong team, the Tigers are headed toward an exciting season with a talented new coach; the team was predicted as the Ivy League champions in the 2023 Ivy League Women’s Lacrosse Preseason Poll. They are currently the highest-ranked Ivy League women’s lacrosse team. They will play their next match on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Temple.
Cate Lee is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.