The Princeton Tigers Field Hockey (8–9 overall, 5–2 Ivy) season ended on Sunday, Nov. 5 in the Ivy League championship game versus the Harvard Crimson (15–3 overall, 7–0 Ivy). The Crimson sent the Tigers home after pulling ahead by one goal with 35.7 seconds left in the game, handing them a 2–1 loss.
Princeton came into the game off a win over the Cornell Big Red in the previous round of the Ivy tournament. But the Tigers faced Harvard earlier in the season, losing 4–0 at home at Berylson Field, with Harvard outshooting the Tigers 16–3. Princeton knew it would be a hard matchup.
Princeton entered the game as the third seed facing the top-seeded Crimson. Although the Tigers were the underdogs, they did not hold back and fought hard throughout the game. Princeton took the field with authority, knowing they needed to win to continue their season and make it to the National Tournament.
“In terms of mental prep, we’ve talked a lot about embracing this rivalry with Harvard rather than resisting it,” head coach Carla Tagliente told The Daily Princetonian. “The more energy you spend focusing on the negatives of a rivalry, the more it drains you emotionally and it distracts you from being in the moment.”
Harvard spent a lot of the early minutes of the game inside Princeton’s circle, but the Tiger defense did not let up. Sophomore midfielder Helena Große made an impressive interception, but Harvard was quick to recover. Princeton continued to fight hard as senior forward Liz Agatucci took a hard hit to the hand and lost her stick, but quickly recovered to stop a Crimson drive.
Princeton continued to battle and held Harvard for the first seven minutes of the game. The Crimson drew a corner with seven and a half minutes left in the first quarter and capitalized on the opportunity. The first goal of the game was scored by the Crimson during an impressive drive through the Tiger’s defense from the edge of the circle.
In the beginning of the second quarter, the momentum shifted briefly to Princeton when two minutes in, the referees debated if the Tigers should take a penalty stroke for a controversial play. Senior defender Sam Davidson had taken all three penalty strokes for the Tigers this season and converted two of the three into goals for the team. Ultimately, the call was overturned and the Tigers did not have the chance to shoot.
Just a few minutes later, a similar play that almost resulted in a Tiger goal was flagged for a penalty stroke. This time Davidson was given the chance to tie it up. The Crimson goalie made an impressive dive to the bottom left corner of the goal, and was able to get her stick on the shot, sending it away from the goal. The Tigers were still down one.
At the half, the Tigers needed a momentum shift and that is exactly what happened when two first-years came onto the field. Princeton drew a corner and Große inbounded the ball to newly named Co-Rookie of the Year, first-year defender Ottilie Sykes, who assisted first-year midfielder Ella Cashman for a goal to put Princeton on the board and tie up the game.
“Scoring felt surreal and to tie up the game was amazing,” Cashman told the ‘Prince.’ “It was a great delivery from Ottilie, and I knew if I could just touch it I had a chance.”
The Tigers fought hard through the end of the quarter, holding off the Crimson despite their ample time in front of the Princeton goal. Princeton also had some impressive plays. Sophomore midfielder Ava Dempsey drove up the field through the Crimson defense, but both teams fought hard to make sure the other could not pull away.
As time ran out, both teams began to realize that whoever scored next would be crowned Ivy League champion. Harvard had the opportunity to pull ahead with three minutes left when they received a corner, but they were unable to convert it. Princeton had the same opportunity just a minute later, but once again, the Crimson goalie had an impressive save, and the Tigers could not come up with a goal.
With only 35 seconds left, a Harvard player sent a strong drive to the circle and the ball hit senior goalie Robyn Thompson’s stick, slowly making its way behind her to the goal line. The ball made it only a few inches over the line into the goal, but it was enough to give Harvard the 2–1 lead. With only 30 seconds left, the Tigers were not able to find another goal, and the Crimson just barely clinched the Ivy League title and the ticket to the national championship.
“I think downtime and some time for reflection is welcomed,” said Tagliente, looking to the offseason. “We will reflect on what we want to prioritize this off-season collectively and in terms of player development. We had a lot of players getting significant minutes this year so to have the opportunity to build on that will be great.”
The Tigers wrapped up their 2023 season with eight impressive wins against top programs and tough competitors. Although seven valuable seniors will be leaving the team, there is still much more to come for Princeton field hockey in 2024.
Evelyn Walsh is a contributor to the Sports section for the ‘Prince.’
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