September 28, 2007

Field Hockey Faces Undefeated Tigers

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Perhaps Princeton should change its mascot from a tiger to a bull prior to tomorrow afternoon’s field hockey showdown against Cornell. When these Tigers see Red, they start charging.
To say that Princeton has an advantage when they play Cornell would be an understatement. As the defending Ivy League champions, Princeton holds a 22-4-3 margin over Cornell in head-to-head matchups. A victory for the Red (5-2, 2-1 Ivy) would not only place it amongst the elite in the Ivy League, but would snap a 14-game losing streak to the Tigers.
Only graduating two seniors from its Ivy champion team, Princeton has not lost to an Ancient Eight opponent all season (4-3, 3-0). However, Cornell head coach Donna Hornibrook ensures her team is not afraid of this annual field hockey powerhouse.
“When you’re the champion, everybody’s out to get you,” Hornibrook said. “We definitely like the role of the underdog. We have a lot of confidence and we’re just going to go in there and see if we can just play as best as possible. We’ll see what happens.”
So far this season, the Red has been successful taking it one game at a time, but the team would be deceiving itself without acknowledging the importance of tomorrow’s contest.
“Any Ivy League game comes with a certain sense of excitement,” said junior goalkeeper Shannon Prescott. “But for some reason, maybe it’s because Princeton is the defending champion of the Ivy League, it’s a big game for us. All year we kind of prepare for the Princeton game, not to downplay any of the other Ivy League teams, but it’s a really big deal. We’re really excited. We’re ready to go into the game. We feel like we’re capable of playing any team we could possibly be [matched up] against. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we are going to use that to our advantage.”
With the defense that has been coming to play these last couple weeks, it’s no wonder the Red is a confident bunch these days. While last season the Red held opponents under 12 shots per game, it has reduced this number to nine shots per game through the early portion of its schedule.
“I think our defense has been solid,” Hornibrook said. “When I talk defense, I’m talking about team defense from our forwards to our backfield and goalkeeping. It’s definitely a team effort for sure. We’ve had only two goals scored on us this season in regulation in seven games. We’re pretty pleased with that. We know that going into this weekend’s game against Princeton that we have to be really solid defensively. We showed a lot of composure last weekend defensively. Also when [goalies] Shannon Prescott and Lizzy Goldblatt are called upon to make a save, they are really, really solid.”
In fact, Prescott’s stonewall defense earned her a ranking amongst the nation’s top goaltenders. Prescott ranks sixth overall in both goals against average (0.97) and save percentage (.828) and is 50th nationally with 4.00 saves per game.
“I think our defense all year has been playing a crucial role in our wins,” she said. “When we’re winning so many games by one goal, you have to step back and look at the defense and say, ‘Good job.’ I feel like a lot of times, our defenders get underappreciated. [Junior offensive players] Alyssa [DePaola], Brenna [Gulotta] and Mandy [Malzberg] are all awesome players, but I feel like [defenders senior] Katie Bradshaw, [sophomore] Natalie Appleton and [junior] Belen Martinez don’t get much of the attention. It’s really comforting to have that defense in front of me. They’re very experienced now. I’m very confident in our defense to stand up against any offense we play. While Princeton has whatever kind of firepower, I don’t think it’s something we need to be afraid of as much as it’s something we need to respect.”
By adopting this mindset, the brunt of the pressure is lifted off the shoulders of Cornell and placed squarely on the Tigers. For the Red to tame these Tigers, it will require a supreme effort on both sides of the field.
“Princeton’s strong year in and year out,” Hornibrook said. “Without a doubt, they’re considered to be the favorite to win the league. In some regards, the pressure is on them on a week-to-week basis because everybody is out to see if they can knock them off. We’re feeling positive going into the game. We think we’ve been playing well. We know that it’s going to take our best performance as a team both defensively and attack-wise. Our goal this season has been a game-to-game basis of trying to come out and play to the best of our abilities. We’re not focused on results, we’re focused on performance. We’ll let the results take care of themselves.”