In the fall of 2009, the Princeton field hockey team made its deepest postseason run in eight years, reaching the national semifinals before losing by two goals to then-unbeaten Maryland. With a squad led by sophomores and freshmen, the Tigers seemed poised for more great things, building up to a milestone year in 2011.
But nothing is more fickle than a bright future. A team that looked like a national championship contender early in 2010 saw two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Katie Reinprecht ’12 limited by injury and lost five of its last seven contests against ranked opponents, including a 4-2 defeat at Virginia in the NCAA quarterfinals.
This summer, the Tigers’ roster suffered even bigger losses before the season. Reinprecht, Kathleen Sharkey ’12, Julia Reinprecht ’13, and Michelle Cesan ’13 — Princeton’s four All-America selections last year — traded jerseys of orange and black for red, white, and blue, earning spots on the U.S. National Team and preparing to play qualifying games for the 2012 Olympics.
Though their decision made head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn’s job more difficult this year, she could not be prouder of her players. “They sat on my couch when they were 16 years old and said that they want to be Olympians someday,” she said. “To see that dream [of playing for the national team] come true is the most amazing thing in the world.”
The quartet has a perfect mentor in Holmes-Winn, who spent eight years playing for the national team and more than a decade coaching in the program. She hopes that her players enjoy a happier ending than she did, when the U.S. team lost to China in the final qualification game for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“Kristen has been so supportive of us,” Sharkey said in an email. “I have never played for a more dedicated coach than her, and I know I wouldn’t be on the national team right now without her helpful advice and great support.”
But back home, what was expected to be a banner season for the Tigers instead has the feel of a rebuilding year, a fear heightened when the team was shut out at No. 7 American University on the opening weekend. Princeton managed only one shot on goal and one penalty corner in the 2-0 loss, struggling to create opportunities.
When the Tigers returned to Class of 1952 Stadium for their home opener Sept. 8, however, they showed they still have the potential to play with the nation’s best teams. After sixth-ranked Penn State jumped out to a 2–0 lead, the hosts responded with their best offensive stretch of the season, sandwiching halftime with four consecutive scores. Goalkeeper Christina Maida ’14 made four saves in the second period, sealing a 4–3 upset win.
Allison Evans ’15 and Sydney Kirby ’15, impressive stick-handlers in traffic on the offensive end, combined for two goals and three assists in the win. They are two of seven freshmen who have been thrust into important action early in their careers, playing key roles even before attending first-semester classes.