March 30, 2009

Princeton's Tochihara Plays for Keeps

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

After replacing Kaitlyn Perrelle as Princeton's starting goalie for the final three games last year, Erin Tochihara has seized the full-time job with a national-best .571 save percentage for the No. 7 Tigers.
© Beverly Schaefer

The music has stopped and Erin Tochihara is sitting alone.

The sophomore goalkeeper has emerged as the full-time starter from Princeton University's game of musical chairs.

"I don't know if I ever thought it would happen so quickly," Tochihara said. "I'm excited as a sophomore I get to contribute and play a major role for the team. It's exciting that it happened so quickly. I get to be on the field and make a difference."

Tochihara replaced Kaitlyn Perrelle as the Tigers starter for the final three games last year, including their NCAA tournament win over Vanderbilt and quarterfinal loss to Northwestern. The job, though, remained wide open for this season.

"We knew we had a couple good options in the cage," said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer. "I really thought we'd be playing both of them a little longer, and our freshman Jane Randall is good too.

"In our preseason and our trip to Australia, different keepers played well. We intended for the first couple games to give Toch and Kate a half each. Toch really asserted herself in her opportunities. She made it clear she was playing her best and that we should go with her. She is playing well and coming up with more saves than we've had in a while."

Tochihara saved 59.4 percent of the shots she faced in the first four games, including making a career-high 16 saves in a one-goal loss at Duke. She currently leads the country with a .571 save percentage after registering seven saves in the seventh-ranked Tigers' 15-8 win Saturday over 19th-ranked Cornell to open Ivy League play. She has been the Ivy League's Defensive Player of the Week the last two weeks.

"Toch is the goalie she is now because of both learning from the other goalies and the competitive everyday challenge," said Marie McKenna, the Tigers' All-American defender. "I definitely think that having her in there, having that reliability, has been a huge key for us. We've had many games where in the first five minutes, she's come up with four or five saves that have set the tone. You can't replace that really."

Tochihara was the missing piece for the Tigers (7-1). They have plenty of strength and experience returning across the field as well as an influx of impact freshmen.

"The goalie position has always been something up in the air," Tochihara said. "For now, it's solidified."

While she isn't the loudest player with her defense, Tochihara is more comfortable and more confident in her second year in the program.

"She's always been incredibly quick," McKenna said. "She has great reaction time. I think the big change is her consistency. She also is becoming a lot more of a leader."

Added Sailer: "She was always a goalie who could make big saves. Now she's making the easy ones too. She's holding her position well. She's seeing the ball better and not jumping in the cage. She's playing relaxed and confident. She doesn't let herself get rattled."

Assistant coach Amy Altig gets a lot of the credit for Tochihara's improvements. Before games, Tochihara has been visualizing the shots she will face. It has her so well prepared that in games it must appear to opponents that she can read their minds.

"The start of the season is going great," Tochihara said, "but it's where the season ends up that's more important. Hopefully the season will end well."

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