When a concussion and spinal injury cost Grace Baylis ’20 her first season of field hockey and first year at Princeton, she found a new challenge.
She went to Nepal and hiked to Mount Everest’s base camp.
“I wouldn’t say it made it all worth it, but it gave me a concrete achievement for the year even though I hadn’t been with my team or academically I hadn’t made any strides,” Baylis said. “That was something I had to do for myself that I could hold onto for a little bit.”
Baylis had suffered her third concussion — her second in six months — in September 2015 when another Princeton player collided with her in practice. Her head bounced on the turf when she fell.
“It was so disappointing when it first happened,” Baylis said. “The team carried on, and I was watching from my own living room. I felt like I was missing out a lot.”
Baylis was too restless to stay in her family’s London, England, home. After working in hospitality, tutoring students in math, and coaching soccer, she traveled to Nepal. She climbed to an elevation of more than 17,000 feet at Mount Everest South Base Camp before returning to Princeton in August 2016 to resume her field hockey career and restart classes.
“They’re massively different challenges, but also similar,” Baylis said. “Being a goalkeeper, it’s such a massive mental game. It was just me with a guide who spoke very little English going up Mount Everest. That’s also a mental thing. You could walk for miles and miles and not see a thing.”
Baylis returned to Princeton fitter, fresher, and mentally stronger, which helped her overcome the anxiety of playing again. It also helped that the Tigers needed her: Baylis was their only goalie last fall. Head coach Carla Tagliente said the staff was careful in practice, holding her out of certain activities.
Baylis keyed Princeton’s surprising run to the NCAA Final Four, getting stronger every game. She made six saves in the first round and five in the quarterfinals. The Tigers lost 3–2 to eventual-champion Delaware in the semifinals.
“She was flying solo,” Tagliente said. “There were a lot of challenges and intricacies to it. It’s amazing she did as well as she did under the circumstances leading up to it.”
Baylis returns for her second year with another goalie, Grace Brightbill ’21, to push her and provide security.
“There’s no holding back,” Baylis said. “[Having another goalie] can allow me to try new things. We can do things with the players that might be a little more dangerous or have a little more contact involved than what we did previously.”
Baylis and Princeton have high expectations after last year’s postseason success, and the Tigers’ schedule will again be a challenging one. They open Sept. 1 at home against North Carolina, the No. 1 team in the preseason rankings, and follow that with a Sept. 3 contest at No. 3 Delaware, the defending NCAA champ. Also on the schedule are No. 7 Penn State (Sept. 10), No. 2 Duke (Sept. 17), No. 6 Maryland (Sept. 19), No. 5 Syracuse (Oct. 1), and No. 4 Connecticut (Oct. 8).
“We want to go on and win the whole thing,” Baylis said. “And there’s no reason for us to not set our standards this high, particularly given last season and the circumstances.”
A version of this story appears in the Sept. 13, 2017, issue.