The Princeton field hockey team won its first NCAA Division I National Championship in a comeback 3-2 victory over No. 1 North Carolina on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.
The game marked the third year in a row that UNC (23-2) finished as the runner-up by a 3-2 score. Carolina won the 2009 title over Maryland 3-2, then lost to the Terrapins in overtime 3-2 in 2010 and 2011.
“I'm incredibly proud of our kids and our effort,” UNC coach Karen Shelton said. “I told the team this morning that I didn’t want how I felt about our effort and our season to get lost in whether we won or lost (today). We had a really good year.”
Princeton won the game off a penalty stroke from Amanda Bird in the 60th minute. Princeton was considered by some to be a team of destiny, returning four U.S. National Team players, including Olympians in sisters Julia and Katie Reinprecht, but getting to that point proved to be a constant battle.
The Tar Heels earned consecutive penalty corners in the third and fourth minutes, but Princeton managed to deflect off their set piece plays. Before the Tigers were able to fire off a shot of their own, UNC was awarded another series of corners. On North Carolina’s fourth corner of the match, Charlotte Craddock sent in the opening goal at 11:26.
Down 1-0, Princeton found an offensive surge and moved the ball into the Tar Heel circle. On a Kathleen Sharkey drive outside the cage, she was fouled and the Tigers set up their first penalty corner of the game. Julia Reinprecht fed the ball to Katie Reinprecht and Sharkey was there to slam in the tying goal at 17:01.
The second half opened similarly to the first, both sides exchanging possession and unable to convert on penalty corners.
The Tigers saw one of their best chances to take the lead in the 44th minute off a Kelsey Byrne drive down the right flank. She found an open Allison Evans in the circle, but her point blank shot was stopped by UNC goalie Sassi Ammer.
On North Carolina’s ensuing drive, Craddock connected with an open Katie Plyler sitting on the far post to tip in the go-ahead goal, 2-1, at 46:03.
Princeton later set up another opportunity in front of the Tar Heel goal. Sydney Kirby dished the ball to a charging Evans from the left side, but Evans was unable to redirect the ball into the cage.
After two close calls, Evans finally was there to put in a goal in the 56th minute. Kirby fed the ball to Sharkey on the right side. She passed it back to Kirby and her first attempt was deflected off Ammer’s pads. The ball bounced to the left side and Evans was there to tap in the tying goal.
A re-energized Princeton continued to penetrate the Tar Heel circle. At 59:52, Michelle Cesan dribbled the ball into the right side of the circle. She was tackled, and the Tigers were awarded a penalty stroke. Bird sailed it into the right side to give Princeton a 3-2 lead.
With less than a minute to play, UNC took a final penalty corner, but the ball went high and wide.