2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 13 Princeton (Women)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Marge Donovan is one of four defensive leaders for Princeton heading into 2022.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 13 PRINCETON

2021 Record: 0-0 (Did not play in 2020)
Final Ranking (2021): Unranked
Coach: Chris Sailer (36th season)

Olivia Pugh was part of Princeton’s brand-new defense in 2018, one of four freshmen that started in the back along with Marge Donovan and Mary Murphy, not to mention goalie Sam Fish.

That once unproven quartet now gives the Tigers a confident launching point as they return to action after 2020 was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ivy League canceled its 2021 season. Pugh was one of 19 Princeton players who took a gap year to preserve a year of eligibility with the Tigers, who have won the last six Ivy League regular-season championships and back-to-back Ivy League tournament titles.

“I think it’s very different playing as a freshman, where you’re just trying to focus on your job and now as an upperclassman and a senior trying to make sure everyone in the unit is doing their part,” Pugh said. “Having that trust with them has been hugely beneficial in being able to step into those new roles and being able to demand more from the underclassmen and the unit itself.”

Pugh felt like the defense was picking up this fall where it left off in 2019 as one of the most accomplished units in the country. The Tigers must mix in a largely inexperienced midfield, and the attack also will have a lot of new faces surrounding All-American Kyla Sears. Princeton knows what to expect of their veterans, but the key to their season is how fast the Tigers bring their younger players up to speed.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

“We’re really young,” said Princeton coach Chris Sailer, who will retire following this spring. “We’re still learning. We have a lot of potential. We have a lot of athleticism. We have good skills. But we are very young. Because of COVID and other reasons, it had been 18 months since we all played together at Princeton, and we have a lot of young kids. The fall was a lot of teaching the systems and getting the basics of the offenses and defenses down.”

A larger roster than usual this fall enabled them to play more full field than many previous years, and those opportunities gave Princeton an idea of its strengths and weaknesses. The in-team competition was essential.

“The thing I love about our team is we push each other and continue to raise the bar,” Pugh said. “If one practice defensively maybe we’re winning out more, the next practice the offense will really work and raise the bar, and they might have their way more in practice. It’s not really one end of the field having one way with the other but more continuing to push the other side to raise the bar and raise their play.”

It’s the same for Pugh within the defensive unit. Some of her defensive teammates have received more accolades, but her role is equally important.

“Being surrounded by some of the best players, I’m constantly pushing to be better, whether that’s in our runs or on the field,” Pugh said. “For me, I’ve always been a leader by example.”

Pugh was drawn to Princeton by the chance to play for a versatile defense. She got that opportunity early on. Now in their fourth season together, the senior returners are being asked to put their experience to use.

“They’ll help with organization and communication and really understand all the ins and outs of the defensive system,” Sailer said. “That’s really, really important this year when we have so many young midfielders.”

The defenders and Fish are being counted on as a strong starting point. Pugh and her fellow four-year starters have seen it all and form the backbone of the team’s title chances.

“I feel really comfortable in my element,” Pugh said. “It’s so familiar. We’ve played together so long that it’s really comfortable.”







TOP RETURNERS

Kyla Sears, A, Sr.

The Tewaaraton candidate can score or set up others on the offensive end for the Tigers. Sears, who owns the school’s single-season assists record, makes everyone around her better.

Sam Fish, G, Sr.

The Ivy League Goalie of the Year in 2019, Fish gives the Tigers defense confidence from the back. Her .482 save percentage ranked No. 16 nationally in 2019.

Marge Donovan, D, Sr.

Donovan played with Sears in the World Lacrosse Super Sixes event. The preseason All-American headlines the experienced low defenders.

KEY ADDITION

Samantha DeVito, M, So.

DeVito brings toughness and speed to the midfield. She will help spark the Tigers transition in her first season of college lacrosse.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Shannon Berry, M, Jr.

A gritty player with great communication skills, Berry has improved tremendously since she started seven games as a freshman in 2019. She will help both ends of the field.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Tigers:

“Chris Sailer is retiring. They’re going to play inspired. It’s going to be a tough situation for the rest of the league. It’s theirs to lose.”

“Kyla Sears is just so dynamic. She will put that team on her shoulders. They’re ready to get after it.”

“It’s Chris Sailer. You can’t count her out, ever. I would imagine they will be a force to be reckoned with, just because of having that type of motivation be the wind beneath their sails.”

“They have the potential to be one of the most dangerous teams in the country.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

18.2%

Where some of the Ivy league teams are starting virtually from scratch, Princeton returns their top four players, ranked by Play Share. Play Share measures how much of a role each player has on the team, and it’s a metric where Kyla Sears stands out. In 2020, Sears had 27 percent of the Tigers’ assists and she took 25 percent of their shots. This worked out to an 18.2 percent Play Share. Continuity — it’s a rare commodity in the Ivy League, but Princeton has it. — Zack Capozzi

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