February 10, 2012

Season Preview (WD1): No. 7 Princeton

by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com

Senior midfielder Cassie Pyle is the Tigers' returning leader in goals and assists.
© Beverly Schaefer

After rebuilding for two seasons, head coach Chris Sailer finally has the talent and experience in place to put Princeton back among the country's elite.

The Tigers struggled after losing a huge graduating class in 2009. But last year the Tigers came on strong to beat Penn twice, win the Ivy League championship and reach the NCAA quarterfinals. That memory pushes Princeton forward.

"It's so huge for us, for our confidence," Sailer said. "You work really hard and believe in yourself. To have that translate into what happens on the field, to make clutch plays and win in the first round in the NCAAs and the games against Penn, a lot of kids came through. That does so much for your confidence coming into this year."

Sailer has started the past two seasons with questions her team's experience. Princeton went 6-10 and missed the NCAA tournament in 2010 before doubling its win total last year.

"In 2010, it showed in our record," Sailer said. "In 2011, we grew up and did some nice things as a team. In 2012, we're coming back with heightened expectations. We're working hard to be ready."

There are still questions, none bigger than in goal. Erin Tochihara, who started all but one game over the last three seasons, graduated. "She kept us in games until we could find our stride," Sailer said. "I watch our highlight film and think, man, she was good."

The Tigers also graduated midfielder Lizzy Drumm. Not only was she their leading goal scorer a year ago, but she also brought the biggest intangible — leadership.

"We don't have that one vocal leader like Lizzy was, so that'll be interesting how that develops," Sailer said. "She was clearly our best field player. She was a tough kid and such a competitor. We wouldn't have had the success we had without her."

This year, the Tigers will have to find a new way, and they are thankful there are so many other veterans back. Princeton's experience will enable it to play more like the top-flight Tiger teams of old.

"We are going to be able to do more things with them," Sailer said. "We'll be more dynamic offensively. I think we'll be more aggressive defensively. And we'll be more threatening through the midfield."

The defensive end has captains Caroline Rehfuss and Cathy Bachur alongside returning All-American defender Lindsey deButts.

"Fortunately, we have a more experienced unit in front of our goalie," Sailer said. "We counted on [Tochihara] to cover our butts. We'll be counting on our defense to give our goalie good looks that she can handle."

The Princeton offense should take some pressure off with six of its top seven point scorers back from a year ago led by senior midfielder Cassie Pyle and junior attacker Jaci Gassaway. They will have help in the midfield from freshman Erin Slifer while the attack adds freshman Erin McMunn, a terrific feeder who was on the gold medal-winning U.S. U19 national team.

"We've got more speed this year," Sailer said. "You may see us doing more damage in the transition game.

"I was really happy with how the fall went," she added. "We were ahead of where we usually are, probably farther ahead than in the past couple years. We have a core of experienced returning players. We all felt we were picking up where we left off, rather than reinventing the wheel."

This article appears in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription to LM. Follow LaxMagazine.com all season long, and check out the Tigers' team page.

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