Katie Reinprecht ’13, left, and Julia Reinprecht ’14, shown in 2012, are vying to return to the Olympics, along with Tiger teammate Kathleen Sharkey ’13.
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

After the thrill of sharing Princeton field hockey’s first NCAA title in 2012, Julia Reinprecht ’14, Katie Reinprecht ’13, and Kathleen Sharkey ’13 couldn’t help but compare it to the disappointment they felt only months earlier.

The trio took a year off from school to train with the United States women’s national team, and the Reinprecht sisters made the final roster that played in the London Olympics. But it wasn’t a dream ending.

“It’s obviously cool going to the Olympic Games, but we finished last,” Julia Reinprecht said. “It makes you more motivated and realize how much hard work it takes to have success at that level. We thought we worked hard, and clearly we didn’t work hard enough.”

That lesson drives the U.S. team, which has a new coach and refocused training regimen. Since graduation, the Reinprechts and Sharkey have been living in Lancaster, Pa., home of USA Field Hockey. Exhausting daily training challenges the players physically and mentally, but it’s the only path they can see to medaling at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Our culture is a bit different,” Katie Reinprecht said. “We want to break the ceiling of women’s field hockey. We want to show it can be played at a new intensity that’s not been seen.”

The United States currently ranks seventh in the world, after rising to a best-ever fifth in March 2015. The U.S. team won the Pan American Games in July, securing a spot in the 12-team Olympic field.

“I want to feel the team is competing at its best and it’s the most confident, united team out there,” Julia Reinprecht said. “We’re hoping that puts us on the podium.”

All three alumnae have worked to expand their roles on the team: Julia, primarily a defender, is more vocal than she was four years ago; Katie, a midfielder, has tried to be more of a facilitator and not just a scorer; and Sharkey, a forward, has become one of the team’s top scoring threats. The final 16-member Olympic roster, plus two alternates, will be announced in July. The experienced Reinprechts aren’t taking their spots for granted, and Sharkey is trying to make her first Olympic team.

“It was definitely disappointing to not make the top 16 [in 2012],” Sharkey said, “but I improved and learned a lot as a field hockey player and athlete. It definitely helped me when I went back to Princeton, and it’s helping me today as I head to Rio.”

Sharkey broke her ankle last summer but returned to play in a series against Japan in December. She’d like nothing more than to team up again with the Reinprechts for more field hockey history.

“It’s definitely really nice having the Reinprechts on the national team,” she said. “It’s been almost 10 years with Katie, and Julia as well. We’re friends off the field and teammates on the field. We’re familiar with our styles of play, so it’s easier to get a connection on the field. I’m very happy I get to still have them as teammates.”