Givens ’20, last year’s postseason star, eyes another memorable November

Abby Givens ’20 leads the Tigers with four assists this season.
Beverly Schaefer
“You’re kidding.” Sean Driscoll couldn’t believe what he had just heard. The Princeton women’s soccer coach was talking to Dan Dudley, the coach of Charlotte Soccer Academy (CSA), a North Carolina-based club team. Driscoll had one spot left in his 2020 recruiting class. He wasn’t expecting to fill the spot that day three and a half years ago, when he’d come to watch Emily Hilliard-Arce ’20, a CSA midfielder who had already committed to Princeton. But that other girl — she hasn’t committed to a college yet? 

That other girl was Abby Givens ’20, an energetic forward who “jumped over everybody,” Driscoll recalled. Princeton recruiting coordinator Mike Poller was also in the stands that day. “What was apparent right away was her desire to win,” Poller said. “She had an insane desire to be successful.” 

Though she didn’t show it on the field, Givens had her doubts about her future in soccer. Before Driscoll’s visit, coaches hadn’t paid much attention to her. “To be completely honest,” she said, “midway through my junior year of high school I had kind of given up on the idea of playing soccer in college altogether.” 

Princeton’s interest restored her confidence — and left her with an easy decision. “I couldn’t possibly say no to a school that really does check all of the boxes,” she said. A relationship that began with a stroke of recruiting luck would turn into a perfect fit for both Givens and Princeton. 

Fast forward to November 2017 and Princeton’s round-of-16 NCAA Tournament game against UNC in Cary, N.C. Givens, then a sophomore and first-team All-Ivy player, had long since overcome her self-doubt. But UNC was a different sort of challenge. “As good as UConn women’s basketball is, multiply it by two,” Driscoll explained. He’s not exaggerating: The Tar Heels have won 22 of the 36 NCAA women’s soccer national championships. In Givens’ words, “They are women’s soccer.”

In sudden-death overtime, with Princeton and UNC tied at one, Givens raced toward the goal to latch onto a lofted pass from Natalie Larkin ’18. At a full sprint, she knocked it past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the net, sealing one of the most famous wins in the history of Princeton athletics. On the biggest stage, Givens had shown the world exactly what she showed Driscoll the first time he saw her. “If anyone was going to score in that moment,” he said, “it was going to be her.” 

While the UNC goal and Princeton’s run to the NCAA quarterfinals will always provide fond memories, Givens is determined not to dwell in the past. As Princeton moves through the seven-game gauntlet of the Ivy League schedule, she is keeping a level head, reminding her teammates that historic success does not come without attention. “We have a target on our back now,” she tells them. “Our games are circled and starred on everyone’s schedule.”

But last year’s success does more than just fuel Princeton’s opponents. It also serves as an ever-present reminder to Givens of the Tigers’ potential.

“My mentality, and the team’s mentality, is that we want to do everything in our power to make last year not a one-time deal,” she said. “We want to be a team that is making repeat appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.”