Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It Was Four Years Ago Today ...

... that the Princeton women's soccer team defeated Washington 3-1 in the NCAA quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. It remains the only Final Four appearance by an Ivy League women's soccer team and the only Final Four appearance by any Ivy team in a 64-team NCAA tournament in any sport.

The quarterfinal game capped an extraordinary month-long run for the women's soccer team, which earned the No. 7 seed in the 2004 NCAA tournament after a 15-2 regular season that included a 7-0 run through the league. Princeton then defeated Central Connecticut 5-0 in the pouring rain in the first round, Villanova 1-0 when Maura Gallagher's corner kick in the second overtime found the back of the net and Boston College 2-0 on Emily Behncke's two second-half goals to reach the quarterfinal.

A crowd of 2,500 jammed into Lourie-Love Field for the quarterfinal game. Behncke scored an early goal, but Washington's Tina Frimpong (who would play for the U.S. national team) evened the game before halftime.

TigerBlog had no doubt at halftime that this would be the Tigers' night, and second-half scores by Esmeralda Negron and Kristina Fontanez sent Princeton to the Final Four. The event was held in Cary, N.C., and Princeton would fall 2-0 to UCLA in the semifinal. Julie Shackford was named the Division I National Coach of the Year.

Even though a relatively short amount of time has passed, it is amazing how long ago it can seem. Two of the Princeton players from that night (Fontanez and Brea Griffiths) are already married and Griffiths has a baby as well. Three (Rochelle Willis, Janine Willis, Catherine Byrd) are graduating from law school; Fontanez and Sylvia Morelli are getting their Ph.Ds. Negron is an assistant coach at Seton Hall; Elizabeth Pillion coaches lacrosse at Princeton when not at her day job in the financial world. Behncke works for Major League Soccer. Diana Matheson would go on to play in the Olympics. The team is literally scattered around the world, as goalkeeper Madeleine Jackson works for a hedge fund in Hong Kong.

Lisa Chinn, who was the last remaining player from that team to play for the Tigers, helped lead Princeton to the Ivy League title and the NCAA tournament this past fall while earning first-team All-Ivy honors.

The field on which the game was played no longer exists, having been replaced by Roberts Stadium. On a sad note, the quarterfinal win over Washington would be the final event at Princeton for legendary public address announcer John McAdams, who passed away the following winter.

It's hard to put the game (and the team's run) into its proper historical context in such a short time, but it definitely ranks among the Top 10 achievements in Princeton women's athletic history and is one of the Top 5 Princeton athletic achievements of this decade.

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