PRINCETON, N.J. — Winning the title on Senior Night to make the NCAA Tournament made for a fairy-tale ending to a great regular season — for Princeton.
Penn women's soccer lost its first Ivy League game on the last day of the season, falling to the Tigers 1-0. The loss means the Quakers (13-2-1, 5-1-1 Ivy) share the Ivy title with No. 24 Princeton (11-3-2, 5-1-1), but the Tigers own the head-to-head tiebreaker and thus the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Penn will have to wait until Monday's bracket announcement to learn their fate.
Coach Nicole Van Dyke elected to play with an attacking mentality despite the Quakers needing just a tie to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. That strategy looked to be working at first, as the Quakers started hot with two quick chances in the first five minutes, but it meant the Quakers were vulnerable in the back. The result: a frantic end-to-end game with many chances but only one goal.
“If you play to draw, you sit in and you take heat all game. You can’t take heat from a team like Princeton for 90 minutes,” Van Dyke said. “If I were to ask these players — ‘We’re going to go into this game and try to draw it’ — they would have looked at me like I’m nuts and I don’t have confidence in them.”
With Princeton’s Sherrerd Field packed to capacity for what amounted to an Ivy League title game, the Quakers came out strong. In a fast-paced, desperate first half, both teams were forced to concede possession in favor of a more direct style. Penn’s best moments came on through passes to senior forward Sasha Stephens and hold up play from junior forward Emily Sands.
The lone goal came on one of those direct passages. A long ball across the field found Princeton senior forward Mimi Asom, the Ivy League’s leading goal scorer. Asom turned, beat the defender, and found the back of the net.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team than tonight," Van Dyke said. "What they showed in the last 10 minutes by going for it, what they showed in the first 45 minutes … I mean Princeton is a great team. They’re a top 25 team in the country, and all we did was prove we should be on that same level and that we are on that same level.”
The referees played a questionable role in the game as things got tighter in the second half. Following a series of questionable no-calls after hard challenges, the game clock became out of sync. With less than two minutes to go, the clock stopped, then read 12 minutes, before the referees decided to place more time on and restart the game with just over a minute left. Van Dyke was furious on the sideline.
“They weren’t stopping the clock — they weren’t doing it properly,” Van Dyke said. “They should have managed it better. Obviously, the ref lost it a little bit at the end of the game and they probably should have put another 30 seconds on the clock, but we don’t worry about those things — we just control what we can.”
The Quakers’ best chance to equalize came in the dying moments of the game after the clock mishap. With less than thirty seconds left, a Penn corner found its way to the goal line. A scrum for the ball ensued, but the Red and Blue just couldn’t get the ball over the line.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t fall your way. We were unlucky on a few bounces. The last corner there was inches away,” Sands said. “They’re a good team, they played good defense on us. Sometimes you just don’t get it done.”
Van Dyke indicated that the Quakers were unlikely to receive an at-large bid and make the NCAA Tournament, so their season is likely over. On Monday, they’ll know for sure.