Courtesy of Princeton Athletic Communications
NORFOLK, Va. -- Despite taking the lead twice in the first half, it took a Teresa Benvenuti overtime penalty stroke golden goal to send the No. 2 Princeton field hockey team to the national championship game. The Tigers (20-1) handed No. 5 Maryland a 3-2 loss in the NCAA semifinals and will face top-seeded North Carolina in the finals. The Tar Heels advanced to the championship game behind a 6-1 victory over No. 5 Syracuse.
With the win, the Tigers will appear in their first NCAA Field Hockey Championship title game since 1998. Owners of the Ivy League's only two previous appearances in the national championship game, Princeton lost in the championship game in 1998 (Old Dominion) and 1996 (North Carolina). The Ivy League is now 3-4 all-time in national semifinal games with Princeton owning a 3-3 mark in those appearances.
The Tigers took control immediately, but were unable to preserve their advantage before halftime. On a long drive down the field, Kathleen Sharkey picked up the ball on the left side outside the circle. The nation's leading scorer then masterfully maneuvered around several Maryland defenders into the circle and ripped a forehand from straight on to put Princeton up 1-0 at 3:17.
Six minutes later Maryland was awarded two consecutive penalty corner opportunities, capitalizing on its second set piece play. After the initial shot was deflected off goalie Christina Maida's pads, the Terrapins' Jill Witmer tapped in the tying goal at 9:09.
With 20:55 to play, the Terps' Janessa Pope sprinted past the Tiger backline and set up for a one-on-one shot with Maida. Pope's drive would be abruptly stopped as Maida dived out of the cage to kick the ball out of the circle.
An aggressive Sharkey continued to look for scoring chances to break up the tie. With 12 minutes to play in the first, she employed another artful drive circling past Terp defenders. With a quick backstroke, she sent in a shot from the right side, but UM goalie Natalie Hunter was able to kick it out of the circle.
Down a player due to a card, a persistent Princeton side drove the ball into the Maryland circle and Sharkey was there again to finish on another goal. Katie Reinprecht picked up the loose ball in traffic and connected with Sharkey on the right side of the cage. The striker's first shot would be deflected off Hunter's pads, but she followed through on the bouncing ball to lift Princeton to a 2-1 advantage at 25:47.
With less than six to play in the first half, Princeton was awarded two straight penalty corners, but was unable to finish on either chance. On the second corner, Maryland sailed the ball into the Princeton half of the field. With numbers not on their side, Tiger defender Kelsey Bryne sprinted to the charging Terp striker, stole the ball and fed it back into UM's half of the field preventing them from taking Maida on one-on-one.
Maida finished the game with three saves, making several gutsy stops throughout the 70-minute battle.
Down 2-1 at 57:20, a Maryland penalty corner was deflected off a Tiger defender and the Terrapins were awarded a penalty stroke. UM's Ali McEvoy chipped in the stroke above Maida's head to even the score 2-2.
As time expired, the Tigers earned a pair penalty corners. Princeton was unable to find a clear line to the cage, sending the game into overtime.
In its first overtime game since Sept. 6, a 3-2 win over then-No. 8 Penn State, Princeton controlled possession from the get-go. Michelle Cesan drove the ball into the circle on the right side, but was fouled in the circle and earned a penalty stroke.
Benvenuti then went up to take the stroke, the first of her career, and slammed in the ball past a lunging Hunter to the right side at the 75:56-minute mark.
Princeton held advantages in shots (9-8), shots on goal (8-5) and penalty corners (6-4). Maryland held a 5-3 differential in saves.