Take the best four players away from any sports dynasty, and although it may still be competitive, chances are it won’t be championship-caliber.
That’s what the Princeton field hockey team is going through this season, as four of its top players have taken a leave of absence to play with the United States National Team in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Princeton, though, is proving the exception to the rule, as the Tigers find themselves one win away from clinching their seventh-straight Ivy League title.
Friday night at Franklin Field, Penn (4-12, 2-4 Ivy) has a chance to play spoiler in its season finale against Princeton (8-7, 5-1), a team that has lost to the Red and Blue only once in the last 17 years.
Considering what is at stake, though, the Tigers are not taking the game lightly.
“We had to fight harder this year than any other year,” Princeton senior captain Alyssa Pyros said. “So winning it would make it all the sweeter.”
Friday’s game comes just days after the U.S. team won the gold medal at the Pan American Games, officially qualifying for the Olympics for the second time since the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Tigers-on-leave Katie Reinprecht and Michelle Cesan both scored goals during the five-game tournament. Julia Reinprecht and Kathleen Sharkey also played.
“We are so proud, and it’s obviously a dream come true for them,” gushed Princeton coach Kristen Holmes-Winn. “It’s been their goal for as long as I’ve known them.”
All four players are eligible to return to the Tigers next season, but in their absence, the Orange and Black have had to rely on younger players stepping up.
“What we really tried to reinforce to the team is that we’re just going to have to be patient, we’re just going to have to figure out who we are,” Holmes-Winn explained.
The team certainly had growing pains at the beginning of the year, dropping four of its first six games. But since then, Pyros has noticed consistent improvement.
“I definitely think as the season went on, more players developed confidence,” Pyros said.
Penn coach Colleen Fink said she “knew that it wasn’t going to be a huge down year” for the Tigers.”
“They definitely have a lot of depth,” she said. “When we looked at their bench, they have some big names … some quality players.”
But despite Princeton’s dominance, Fink remains confident in her team’s ability to pull off an upset. It is her job, as she understands it, to make her team believe they can win.
“You can’t put your opponent up on a pedestal and say, ‘It’s impossible,’” Fink said. “They’re not a perfect team; they’re human just like us.”
And this year, the Tigers are as human as they have been in recent memory. Entering the season, they had lost just one Ivy game in the last six years, and their seven losses overall are the most since 2006.
From this perspective, and considering it is the seniors’ swan song, Fink has a good feeling about the match.
“It’s their last game on Franklin Field, under the lights, homecoming weekend — you couldn’t make a better backdrop for the senior class.”
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