The Princeton Tigers (8-1, 3-0 Ivy) now sit alone atop the Ivy League standings as the only undefeated women’s lacrosse team after defeating Yale (8-1, 3-1) Saturday at Johnson Field 13-8.
The Bulldogs found themselves down early, and despite a thrilling five-goal scoring rally, could not surmount the Princeton defense.
“I think the main difference is that we controlled the ball for most of the game,” Princeton’s head coach Chris Sailer said.
The Tigers, led by Ivy League defensive player of the week, freshman goalie Meghan McInnes, took the lead early and never looked back. The Elis trailed the entire game, and even with their much improved play in the second half, could not overcome one of the nation’s best defenses. The Tigers’ defense surrenders an average of less than seven goals a game.
“You just can’t get down by five goals against the No. 3 ranked team in the country,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said.
Princeton opened up the scoring when attacker Kim Smith scored three goals — thus earning a hat trick — in the first 8:50. Miles Whitman ’04 finally put Yale on the board at 10:31, and attacker Kate Flatley ’01 cut the lead to one at 12:32. But the Tigers roared back with four unanswered goals to end the half ahead 7-2, leaving the Bulldogs with little hope of a victory.
“[We] came out flat,” O’Leary said. “We weren’t executing on the offensive end, and we weren’t denying them on the defensive end like we knew we were able to.”
One problem was that the Elis were losing critical groundballs. Princeton dominated the game’s tempo, and Yale could not seem to set up an effective offense. Princeton’s defense did an excellent job of rushing the Bulldog offense and forcing the Elis to take bad shots.
“They came up with a lot of draw controls, and that’s a big part of women’s lacrosse,” O’Leary said. “It really put us at a disadvantage because we found ourselves on the defensive.”
The Tigers were so aggressive that they intercepted several clearing passes from goalie Amanda Sisley ’03 — twice converting these steals into goals.
And when the Elis finally found Princeton’s weakness — its transition defense — Yale was too far into the hole.
“Once we realized we could score against them in transition, that became our game plan, but it was too little, too late,” O’Leary said.
This second-half strategy proved golden as the Bulldogs tallied five straight goals in just six minutes, igniting the packed stands. Kate Flatley ’01 scored twice to cut the lead to 8-4, and goals by Clarissa Clarke ’03 and Katherine Myers ’01 pulled the Elis to within two. Then Whitman notched her second goal of the game, weaving through three Orange and Black defenders before rifling in the shot to close the gap to 8-7 with 18:04 left to play.
But the Bulldogs did not get any closer.
“When Yale mounted its comeback, they never tied it up, and it was really important for us not to let them get back to a tie game situation,” Sailer said. “It’s hard when you’re constantly fighting from behind and you score three unanswered goals but you’re still two down.”
The Tigers regrouped and thwarted any further Bulldog attacks, as Princeton’s Smith broke Yale’s scoring streak with her fifth goal of the afternoon. Not even the screaming full house could revive the Bulldogs, and Princeton regained control of the contest.
“We need to figure out how to take the comeback and turn it into a win,” captain Liz Gardner ’01 said. “That’s the next step.”
Then, with only four minutes remaining and the Elis down 10-8, a sense of urgency came over the Bulldogs. The Elis went on the attack, making every effort to steal the ball.
But the Elis came up empty and this aggressive play left holes in the Eli front, allowing Princeton to secure three soft goals by the game’s end.
“I think the second half was a plus for the team,” O’Leary said in reference to her team’s six goals versus Princeton’s three in the heart of the stanza.
Highlights for the Elis included senior attacker Flatley’s three-goal performance and freshman Jenn Kessel’s excellent play on defense against some of the most potent scorers in the league — like Tiger attacker Lauren Simone who is third in the league in scoring with 26 points.
But O’Leary was quick to point out that even though some players stepped up Saturday, the whole team needed to bring its best game — something that did not happen.
Now the Bulldogs look to bounce back at Columbia Wednesday in another important Ancient Eight battle.
“It’ll be a test for us to see how good of a team we really are and to see if we can recover from a loss like that,” O’Leary said.
The Bulldogs still have a shot at the Ivy League title if the Tigers are upset by No. 11 Dartmouth. Fortunately for the Elis, Princeton has not beaten the Big Green since 1996.