Princeton 3, Washington 1



Princeton, N.J. -- Julie Shackford inherited a Princeton women's soccer team a decade ago that was 20 games under .500 for the seven years before she arrived and hadn't even been in the top four of the Ivy League in five years.

Today, her Princeton women's soccer team stands beyond perhaps her wildest dreams of 10 years ago and where no Ivy League school has ever gone before: the NCAA Final Four.

Esmeralda Negron and Emily Behncke each had a goal and assist and Kristina Fontanez added another to lead the seventh-seeded Tigers to a 3-1 win over 15th-seeded Washington in front of an overflow crowd of 2,504 at Lourie-Love Field in Friday night's quarterfinal game.

The victory advanced Princeton to the NCAA Final Four, where the Tigers will take on the winner of Saturday afternoon's UCLA-Ohio State game. The Final Four will be held next Friday and Sunday at the State Capital Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

"This is unbelievable," Shackford said. "This whole season has been like a dream."

Princeton won its fourth straight NCAA tournament game on its home field, running its home winning streak to a school-record 19 straight. The Tigers improved to 19-2 overall for the most wins any Ivy women's soccer team has ever had.

"It's not what you think of when you go to an Ivy League school," said Negron, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year. "You don't come in thinking you're going to get to the Final Four. This team worked hard and believed in itself, and now that's where we are."

Neither Princeton nor Washington had allowed an NCAA tournament goal heading into the quarterfinal game, which was the first meeting ever between the schools. It would take just over eight minutes for the Huskies five-game shutout streak to end as Behncke scored the first goal of the night, her 13th of the season, with 8:05 gone on drive off a long chip from Diana Matheson.

Washington tied it 14 minutes before halftime when Tina Frimpong, the two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year, took a long feed down the middle of the field from Nikki Gamble and sprinted past the Princeton defense. She then veered around Tiger goalkeeper Emily Vogelzang and directed the ball into the net to make it 1-1, a score that would stand up at intermission.

"We've played a lot of close games this year," said Behncke, a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection. "We've been in a lot of tough situations. We had a lot of confidence in each other at halftime. We wanted to be more aggressive."

That aggressiveness paid off, as the Tigers outshot Washington 8-2 after intermission and put the game away with two goals in a five-minute span.

The game-winner came from Negron, who executed a perfect give-and-go with Behncke just 5:32 into the second half. For Negron it was her 20th goal of the season and 47th goals of her career, adding to her myriad of school records.

Negron came right back with a cross in front that Fontanez hammered home 4:48 later to make it 3-1 with 34:46 to play. Princeton continued to push forward, and the best chance either team would have the rest of the way came when a low drive by Maura Gallagher was smothered by Kelsey Rasmussen.

Princeton outshot Washington 18-10 and has now outshot its four NCAA tournament opponents 89-19 and outscored its four NCAA opponents 11-1. The third goal of the night broke the school record for goals in a season with 58, and Princeton has outscored its opponents 58-9 for the year.

"I've believed in this team all year, except for one moment," said Shackford, who had pictures of her longtime assistant coach Ron Celestin taped to the bench as Celestin had to miss the game to attend his brother's funeral in Haiti. "At halftime of the Yale game back in September, when it was 0-0, I told them that they had to be more aggressive, that they had to compete more. I told them that they could play with anyone, and they went out and proved it."

The Tigers, who were a perfect 7-0-0 in the Ivy League during the season, became the second Princeton team to advance to the NCAA Final Four this fall after the men's water polo team qualified and the fourth Princeton team this calendar year to reach an NCAA Final Four, which the men's and women's lacrosse teams also did.

The Princeton men's soccer team reached the 1993 NCAA Final Four.

-- Courtesy Princeton