The gray sky was all gloom and doom in Storrs, Connecticut on Sunday. The UConn field hockey team (19-4) prepared their garb accordingly, but the weather would ultimately be a bad omen for their NCAA tournament quarterfinal between No. 2 overall seed UConn and the visiting Princeton Tigers.
Aiming to continue riding a five-game winning streak into the Final Four, UConn was instead stunned 2-0 by the visitors on Sunday afternoon, concluding another strong season for the program, but one that came to an earlier end than they would have liked.
Even the uninformed field hockey fan could tell the first period was in favor of the Huskies. They forced numerous Tigers’ turnovers, connected on several long passes to crack the Princeton zone, and generally led in meaningful time of possession.
Their best wave came about seven minutes into the action. Freshman Sophie Hamilton fed senior forward Svea Boker out on the far side in the Princeton third. Boker returned it, and Hamilton was able to take a centered, powerful shot that Princeton goalie Grace Baylis made a save on.
The rebound made its way to Maddie Wray, who put on a quality uncontested shot of her own, but Baylis’ made another big save, and UConn was ultimately kept off the scoresheet in the opening frame. Princeton, meanwhile, went without a shot in the quarter.
Boker had an impressive drive at the net where she outmaneuvered two Tiger defenders early in the second, but he shot was deflected well high as she neared Baylis. Princeton would then garner the game’s first and second penalty corners in short order halfway into the second quarter.
The Huskies rebuffed the first attempt, but the second created a shot blocked by Sprecher. However, the rebound was up for grabs, and in the scrum junior midfielder MaryKate Neff was able to put it in the net, giving Princeton the 1-0 lead.
Late in the period, UConn would have an extra-player advantage when Boker got bundled around midfield. They could do nothing with it-portending a day full of offensive woes.
Early in the second half Princeton sophomore forward Ali McCarthy found their leading scorer Clara Roth out in front, but Sprecher broke from her spot on the goal line and made the save. In that same wave, the Tigers would threaten again, thwarted by a Sprecher save and a turn away by Wray.
Both teams had their moments in the third, including a nice drive by Wray, leading to a Boker shot blocked by the body of a Princeton defender.
UConn would have a single penalty corner in the game, coming in the third. Typically frequent and effective with their set pieces, the Huskies tried to make the most of it. Senior defender Antonia Tiedtke sent the corner to Abby Goodherham. The resulting shot was primed to tie things up at one, but Baylis’ diving save kept UConn scoreless. It was a three-shot but zero-goal swing for the Huskies.
Princeton would score again early in the fourth. With possession on the far side, they forced a Sprecher save on a good shot. The rebound made its way to sophomore midfielder Hannah Davey, however, and she would put away her third goal of the NCAA tournament.
UConn went on the aggressive. Head coach Nancy Stevens pulled Sprecher at about seven minutes. Right after, Wray forced a Princeton turnover. She fed Boker, and on Boker’s return pass, Wray was caught weaving in front of a defender, then decelerating. The resulting collision earned Princeton’s Davey a yellow-card and two-player advantage for UConn.
Princeton would hold off a few meager UConn attacks and slowly salted the clock and penalty away. The Huskies did not generate a shot on goal with their created benefit.
Nor could they do anything to stop Princeton from possessing the ball. Facing the end of their season, UConn only mustered one shot in the fourth quarter, and Princeton left Storrs with a 2-0 victory, their tickets punched to the Final Four in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The loss marked a sour defeat for a team with legitimate national title aspirations, with the Huskies finishing their season 19-4. Senior stalwarts Svea Boker and Antonia Tiedtke, 2017 national champions, also saw successful careers come to an end. Boker was sensational all year, with 21 goals, 13 assists, and 51 points in 2019. Tiedtke was among the nation’s best two-way defenders and assists leaders.
The defeat leaves Stevens with exactly 700 hundred wins heading into 2020. With young players like Sprecher, Hamilton, Claire Jandewerth, and Wray set to return, the machine appears capable of carrying on.