Monday, November 19, 2012

The 2012 NCAA Field Hockey Champion Princeton Tigers

Kristen Holmes-Winn walked into the office one day last winter to introduce herself to Diana Chamorro, who had taken over as the field hockey contact for the Office of Athletic Communications.

Diana had never seen a field hockey game before, and she knew nothing at all about the sport.

When she had her first introduction to Kristen, the head coach of Princeton field hockey, it was followed by, essentially, these words from the rest of the office: "you'll love field hockey, because they're going to win the national championship."

It was obvious way back then that 2012 was going to be a special year for Princeton field hockey, which had all of the pieces in place. There was a returning nucleus of last year's team, as well as the addition of a top recruiting class.

And of course, the Fab Four of Julie Reinprecht, Katie Reinprecht, Michelle Cesan and Kathleen Sharkey, four players who missed last year while training with the U.S. National Team, with the two Reinprechts on the U.S. Olympic Team and Cesan an alternate.

And there they all were yesterday, in Norfolk, Va., making it all come true, achieving what was dreamable last winter and is now reality this fall, winning the first NCAA field hockey championship in program history, defeating No. 1 seed North Carolina 3-2 to win it all.

Princeton finished its championship season 21-1, including a 7-0 run through the Ivy League by a combined 45-1 score. The Tigers won the NCAA title by beating two-time defending champion Maryland in the semifinal and then the No. 1 team in the country, North Carolina, in the final. 

As an aside, Princeton's streak of having at least one team or individual national champion win a national championship has now reached 42 consecutive academic years.

It's one of the great achievements in the history of women's athletics at Princeton - and one of the top athletic achievements by any Princeton team, for that matter.

It's not just an NCAA championship. It's one in a sport where it seemed like the landscape had shifted away from an Ivy League school and directly to the powers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, perhaps forever.

Princeton had played in the 1996 and 1998 NCAA finals, losing both. Three years later, Michigan would win the 2001 title, but from that point until yesterday, every championship was won by a team from the ACC.

Until yesterday, that is.

Two days after defeating Maryland in overtime, Princeton erased deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, took the lead with 20 minutes to go and then held off the Tar Heels for the victory.

For TigerBlog, the field hockey championship from this weekend reminds him of the 1992 NCAA men's lacrosse championship, when the Tigers went to Philadelphia and crashed the party of the big boys of the sport.

It was a magical weekend for a magical team, and it brought Princeton forever into the hierarchy of the sport.

It's the same for Princeton field hockey now.

Here's the list: North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest, Michigan, Old Dominion, James Madison, Iowa and UConn. And now Princeton. Those are the only schools that have ever won the Division I field hockey championship.

And of that group, three of them - James Madison, Iowa and UConn - won their titles in 1994 or earlier.

The 2012 Tigers were highly regarded, yes, but with a Final Four of the two ACC powers and Syracuse, who had defeated both Princeton and UNC during the regular season, Princeton wasn't supposed to walk away with the big trophy, just like the men's lacrosse team in 1992.

And yet come the end of the championship game, it was Princeton who was celebrating.

If you listened to the videostream of the trophy presentation, you heard one Princeton voice ask, through the cheers, this question: "is this real life?"
It is.

For Princeton field hockey, it's very real.

Princeton field hockey, the 2012 NCAA champion.

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