Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Staying Home

When TigerBlog saw that it would be Boston College at Princeton in the opening round of the NCAA women's soccer tournament, the first person he thought of was Emily Behncke.

Without looking, TigerBlog can tell you that Behncke scored both goals in Princeton's 2-0 win over Boston College in the 2004 NCAA tournament. The game was scoreless until about 10 minutes were left, and then Behncke scored twice in about, oh, four minutes?

TigerBlog wrote that last sentence without looking it up. He was close, but not exactly right. Behncke's first goal came with 8:12 left. Her second came 1:34 later.

The win over Boston College in 2004 came in the Sweet 16 round. Princeton had already defeated Central Connecticut and Villanova and then would beat Washington in the quarterfinals to reach the Final Four.

When Princeton reached the Final Four, it took on a UCLA team coached by Jill Ellis, who would never win an NCAA title with the Bruins but did manage to win the Women's World Cup as head coach of the U.S. Women's National Team this past summer. As for 2004, Princeton's best season ever would end with a 2-0 loss in the national semifinals.

TigerBlog has always tried to figure out where that accomplishment, reaching the NCAA women's soccer Final Four, ranks all time for Princeton women's athletics, keeping in mind that Princeton has produced national championships in women's sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, rowing, fencing and squash. On the other hand, there are more than 300 Division I women's soccer teams, and no other Ivy League school has ever reached the Final Four.

So yes, it was a stunning accomplishment for Princeton. So was going unbeaten a year ago in women's basketball. Neither team won a championship, but that doesn't diminish the fact that their achievements are up there with anything that has been done at Princeton in women's athletics.

All four of Princeton's NCAA tournament wins in 2004 came on Lourie-Love Field, the former home of Princeton soccer. It was a nice place for a game, but it lacked any sort of frills in the least. In fact, all it was was a bunch of rickety old wooden stands around a field.

Today Princeton plays in beautiful Roberts Stadium, which is as nice a college soccer facility as you'll ever see. And it's an incredible place to see a game.

The win over Washington was the last NCAA tournament home game for Princeton's women's soccer team. Until now.

The game between Princeton and Boston College in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament will be held Saturday night at 7, after the season finale for the men's team against Yale at 4. It will be the first NCAA women's soccer game ever played on Myslik Field.

Princeton is 13-3-1 on the year, after starting out 2-3. The Tigers rolled through the Ivy League, going 6-0-1 to win the outright championship.

The reward is a home game against BC, who is 11-6-2 overall, 5-3-2 in the ACC. The teams have two common opponents, and those results would suggest a close game, as both beat Harvard 2-1 and both beat Columbia by two goals (BC won 2-0; Princeton won 3-1).

The 2004 Tigers saw Behncke (13) and Esmeralda Negron (school single-season record 20) combine for 33 goals - and also featured the otherwordly all-around game of longtime Canadian national team player and Olympic bronze medalist Diana Matheson.

 The 2015 Tigers are also led by a major 1-2 punch, with junior Tyler Lussi (13) and freshman Mimi Asom (10) having combined for 23 (in two fewer games than Behncke and Negron had).

Lussi herself has 41 career goals, which ties her for second all-time at Princeton, behind Negron's 47. That would be among all women - and men - who have ever played at Princeton.

This Princeton team has 10 other players who have scored at least one goal and another who has no goals but does have six assists.

It's been an outstanding year for Princeton women's soccer, and the reward was the opportunity to stay home. This is actually the third time Princeton and BC will play at Princeton in the NCAA tournament, as the Eagles won 2-0 in 1983.

Princeton is 6-2 all-time at home in NCAA women's soccer games. Away from home? Princeton is 1-8, the only win at West Virginia in 2012.

So yes, playing at home is a big deal.

And the Tigers earned it.

For the first time since 2004. The Boston College game that year was a great one. Princeton dominated but couldn't score, until Benhcke had her two late ones to make the Tigers winners.

The rematch? It figures to be two relatively evenly matched teams, playing an NCAA tournament game at a beautiful stadium.

You can't ask for much more for a November Saturday evening.

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