Monday, November 5, 2012


By the time TigerBlog left the football stadium and made it over to soccer Saturday afternoon, it was already halftime of the Penn-Princeton women's game.

As he walked from the parking lot to the field, TB was approached by a man who asked if he was correct in saying that the game was essentially the Ivy League championship game.

The man was sort of correct.

Princeton had already clinched at least a share of the championship prior to the game, and the Tigers entered Saturday needing a win or a tie to get an outright championship. Penn would have earned a share with a win, and had Penn won, then Dartmouth would have been in the mix with a win over Cornell (which the Big Green would get, 3-0).

Had Princeton lost Saturday, it still would have been a championship season. And it would have felt empty had the Tigers come so close to winning outright only to let it get away.

From Twitter (which, by the way, is the best way to get quick updates on Princeton events), TB knew that Princeton had scored twice in the first half.

The 45 minutes of the second half were fascinating theater.

On the one hand, you had Princeton, trying not to celebrate too early, trying not to look up at the clock that never seemed to move.

On the other, you had Penn, desperately trying to get back into it.

And in Ithaca, you had Dartmouth, also checking Twitter for updates of the game, hoping somehow Penn would win.

It seemed like the party would start when Lauren Lazo scored her third goal of the day, making it 3-0 Tigers with 35 minutes to go.

Then, just like that, everything became lump-in-throat dramatic.

First Penn made it 3-1 with 25 minutes left, and then it became 3-2 with 16 minutes to play. Actually, with 16:43 to play.

Sixteen-forty-three. That's a long, long, long time.

College athletics has an amazing dynamic to it of having coaches spent years and years building teams and then spend hours and hours preparing in a given season, all to hope to be in a situation like Princeton was in Saturday, sixteen-forty-three from a championship.

Had that time gone well, then everyone associated with Princeton women's soccer would have a lifetime of memories to cherish. Had it gone poorly, none of them would have forgotten it anytime soon.

Adding to that was the memory of the second game of this season, when Princeton allowed three late goals - including two that came 1:34 apart with fewer than five minutes left - to turn a comfortable 4-1 lead into a 4-4 tie with Colgate.

This time, though, Princeton did what championship teams do, which was ice the game.

It started, as it usually does, with Jen Hoy, whose 38 points this year are the second-highest single-season total in program history, behind only current assistant coach Esmeralda Negron's 52 in 2004. This time, Hoy outran the defense and forced the goalkeeper to come play her, which led to a loose ball that found its way to Caitlin Blosser, who pounded it into the net for the championship's exclamation point.

It's been a great turnaround season for Princeton and a great year for Hoy, Blosser and the rest of the Tiger seniors, who fulfilled the promise that they came in with as a highly regarded freshman class.

It was also a big year for head coach Julie Shackford, who with this season may have stamped herself as the greatest coach in Ivy women's soccer history.

Only one Ivy League coach, Brown's Phil Pincince with 301, has won more Ivy women's soccer games than Shackford, who has 188 at Princeton (230 overall). The 2012 championship is her sixth, more than four of the other league schools have won in their entire histories and tied with a fifth school.

The venerable Pincince (who has coached 35 seasons, or one fewer than twice the 18 that Shackford has) has won 12, but nine of those came in the earliest days of the sport in the league.

There have been only five 7-0-0 seasons in league history, and two of those are Shackford's. And, on top of that, she also has the crowning achievement of Ivy women's soccer, the 2004 NCAA Final Four appearance that has never been matched before or since by a league school, on her resume.

In fact, in addition to her place in Ivy women's soccer history, Shackford also has to be considered among the greatest women ever to coach at Princeton in any sport.

Last year was a rare down year for Princeton women's soccer, and to come all the way back with a perfect 7-0-0 season is a great accomplishment. Hey, going 7-0-0 anytime is remarkable.

After Blosser's goal, the outcome was really no longer in doubt. When the last minute began to be counted down, the celebration began on the Princeton bench, where the culmination of 12 months of working to get back to the top played out in hugs, shrieks, jumping up and down and eventually with an icy Gatorade cooler poured over the coach's head.

Now it's on to the NCAA tournament, and Princeton will find out its opponent this afternoon at four.

As TB walked out of the stadium, he saw several members of that 2004 team, including Maura Gallagher, Elizabeth Pillion, Emily Behncke, Beth Hendricks and Madeleine Jackson. Princeton women's soccer has a strong and loyal alumnae following, one that was going to be there in force to support a coach and program that means so much to them.

It was that kind of evening for Princeton women's soccer, a night that was so promising, then required everyone to hold their collective breath when Penn made it a one-goal game and ultimately turned into a celebration after Blosser's rocket.

It was a night about the past and the present, and a reaffirmation of what can come of intercollegiate competition, with its lifelong sense of belonging to each other and being there to celebrate the current generation.

Especially on nights like Saturday.

Championship nights.


Alum said...

Excellent post. Your concluding three paragraphs are especially well put.

Anonymous said...

selection show is 430, not 4pm...