When Clara Roth ’21 put on her Princeton field hockey uniform for the first time, her goal was to win a national championship. But she didn’t expect to win one wearing a different uniform.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Ivy League sports from the spring of 2020 until the fall 2021 season, causing many senior athletes to consider transferring elsewhere to continue competing. Coming off a national championship appearance in 2019, several of the Princeton women’s field hockey seniors entered the transfer portal.
Roth and Maddie Bacskai ’21 both transferred to Northwestern University to pursue master’s degrees in management science while also joining the field hockey team as graduate transfers. In November, the Northwestern Wildcats defeated Liberty University to secure the national championship.
“It was definitely disappointing in the beginning,” said Roth. “I never thought I would play anywhere else, and I would have loved to play my senior season at Princeton. But now looking back, it obviously was a blessing in the end. It gave me the opportunity to experience a new school, a new environment, become part of a new team, and obviously win a national championship.”
The two women are in a small group of graduate transfers from Princeton playing notable second careers, including basketball player Carlie Littlefield ’21, who is pursuing an MBA at the University of North Carolina. There she has rejoined coach Courtney Banghart, the Princeton women’s basketball coach from 2007 to 2019, who recruited Littlefield to Princeton and coached her for two years.UNC is currently ranked 21st in the AP poll, and Littlefield is a captain and starter for the team. She leads the Tar Heels with 44 assists.
The list also includes Ryan Schwieger ’21 who leads Loyola University Chicago’s basketball team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game. Schwieger has been named Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Newcomer of the Week twice this season. He is pursuing a master’s degree in urban studies.
At Northwestern, Roth was the second-leading scorer for the Wildcats, scoring 13 goals. Bacskai started every game as a defender and played more minutes than any other team member.
Bacskai tore her ACL in 2019, missing Princeton’s championship game. “I remember I was so happy and so proud [in 2019], but it was also so difficult being on the sideline and not actually being on the field and playing for a national championship,” Bacskai said.
Roth said she chose Northwestern both for the coaches and the opportunity to have a different experience than the one she had at Princeton. Princeton is a small school with a small-town feel, she said, while Northwestern is near a big city — Chicago. “I really wanted to put myself out there and explore something new,” she said.
Both athletes said that they were nervous about joining a new team, but their teammates were extremely welcoming. “I was 23 but it felt like I was a freshman all over again,” said Bacskai.
Even at Northwestern, the Princeton connection remained strong for both players. During the season, their teammates from the Class of 2020 visited, buying T-shirts that read “Northwestern sister” and cheering them on.
“It was definitely sad not being able to have my senior season [at Princeton], but I think when [Clara] came with me to Northwestern, it was almost like I had a piece of Princeton there with me going through this new journey and this final year,” said Bacskai.