For the first time in program history, the Princeton field hockey team won the NCAA Division I National Championship in a comeback 3-2 victory over No. 1 North Carolina Sunday in Norfolk, Va. In a battle between the top two teams in the nation, it took another resilient effort by the Tigers to top the six-time national champions.
Like Friday’s semifinal victory, Princeton won the game off a penalty stroke, this time in regulation from Amanda Bird in the 60th minute. Many referred to this team as a team of destiny, returning four U.S. National Team players, including Olympians in sisters Julia and Katie Reinprecht, but getting to that point proved to be a constant battle.
The opening minutes of the match saw a hustling pace, as both sides looked to possess the ball; however it was North Carolina to take the initial advantage.
The Tar Heels earned consecutive penalty corners in the third and fourth minutes, but Princeton managed to deflect off their set piece plays. Before the Tigers were able to fire off a shot of their own, UNC was awarded another series of corners. On North Carolina’s fourth corner of the match, Charlotte Craddock sent in the opening goal at 11:26.
Down 1-0, Princeton found an offensive surge and moved the ball into the Tar Heel circle. On a Kathleen Sharkey drive outside the cage, she was fouled and the Tigers set up their first penalty corner of the game. J. Reinprecht fed the ball to K. Reinprecht and Sharkey was there to slam in the tying goal at 17:01. The ball tipped off a UNC defender, but was on target the entire time.
At the 31:38-minute mark, Princeton set up for its fifth penalty corner of the game. Unable to find a lane on the initial attempt, the ball would move between Tigers and J. Reinprecht nearly had a chance to put Princeton up for the first time in the game.
Knotted 1-1, the second half opened similarly to the first, both sides exchanging possession and unable to convert on penalty corners.
The Tigers saw one of their best chances to take the lead in the 44th minute off a Kelsey Byrne drive down the right flank. She found an open Allison Evans in the circle, but her point blank shot was stopped by UNC’s goalie Sassi Ammer.
On North Carolina’s ensuing drive, Craddock connected with an open Katie Plyler sitting on the far post to tip in the go-ahead goal, 2-1, at 46:03.
With 17 to play, Princeton set up another opportunity in front of the Tar Heel goal. Sydney Kirby dished the ball to a charging Evans from the left side, but Evans was unable to redirect the ball into the cage.
After two close calls, Evans finally was there to put in a goal in the 56th minute. Kirby fed the ball to Sharkey on the right side. She passed it back to Kirby and her first attempt was deflected off Ammer’s pads. The ball bounced to the left side and Evans was there to tap in the tying goal.
A reenergized Princeton side continued to penetrate the Tar Heel circle, looking for the elusive advantage. At 59:52, Michelle Cesan dribbled the ball into the right side of the circle. Like in the semifinals, she was tackled to the right of the cage and the Tigers were awarded a penalty stroke. Junior Bird went to the chalk mark and sailed it in to the right side to give Princeton a 3-2 lead. The stroke was the first of the season for her and the Tigers conclude the year going a perfect 4-for-4 on strokes.
With less than a minute to play, UNC took a final penalty corner and the ball would be sent in high and wide. The clock then ticked to 00:00 and a jubilant Princeton side rushed the field celebrating.
North Carolina held advantages in shots (13-11) and saves (7-6), but Princeton had a 10-9 differential on shots on frame.
The Tigers have won the first NCAA national championship at Princeton since women’s rowing in 2010.
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