It ended officially as a tie, but in the NCAA tournament, one team needs to advance, and though it was still tied four rounds into the penalty-kick shootout, the fifth round was decisive, sending Texas Tech on to the round of 16 on Sunday against third-seeded and No. 13-ranked North Carolina.
With the tie, Princeton handed Texas Tech its first non-win at home since Sept. 25, 2022, ending a 13-game winning streak, and it came in front of a facility-record crowd of 2,346.
“What a fantastic endorsement for college soccer,” Princeton coach Sean Driscoll said. “What a crowd, what an atmosphere, and I know even one percent was rooting for us, but still, such a great atmosphere. (It was) really, really intimidating in a lot of ways, but so amazing.”
Princeton played in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Texas Tech in 2018, a 3-0 loss in which the Tigers were outshot 24-11 overall and 12-3 on goal.
The return trip went much differently. Princeton outshot the Red Raiders 16-9 overall and 6-3 on goal, holding Texas Tech without a shot on goal until less than two minutes remained in regulation when senior Madison Curry cleared a would-be goal off the line.
“Coming into this, we weren’t sure how this was going to go, other than the fact we knew that our kids would give a great effort, but if you told me this was the effort we were going to get, I would have taken it every single day and time and time again,” Driscoll said. “I’m just so proud of my team. I’m so proud of the effort. I’m so proud of my seniors, and the hardest thing for me really is just to say goodbye to them.”
The 90-minute regulation and 20 minutes of overtime came and went, and the tie persisted. The five-round penalty-kick shootout ensued.
Heather MacNab, Kayla Wong and Lily Bryant took the first three shots for Princeton, and all converted. So did Sam Courtwright, Jillian Martinez and Alex Kerr for Texas Tech.
Zoe Markesini went fourth for Princeton and missed right, but Tiger keeper Tyler McCamey made a save on Texas Tech’s Ashleigh Williams, getting a hand on the ball and knocking it off the left post, keeping the shootout tied. But, Texas Tech keeper Madison White followed with her save on Aria Nagai’s attempt, putting the clinching try on the foot of Peyton Parsons, who converted to send the Red Raiders on.
“We choose the kids who really want to take it, because it’s one thing to take it in training, it’s a whole different thing (in this environment),” Driscoll said. “The five of them stood up. We had two first-years step up today to take them, which I thought was amazing, and we have a tremendous goalkeeper. We put the faith in her to make good decisions. She made a great save, and often times one is enough. Unfortunately, tonight, that was not the case. To me, it’s all about wanting to be in that moment. Those are the kids we choose.”
It was Princeton’s second-ever penalty-kick shootout in the NCAA tournament. The other was in 2017, also in the second round, when Princeton won 5-4 to advance to the round of 16, where it met and defeated North Carolina.
All six Tiger seniors played in the game, in midfielders Marissa Hart and Nagai, backliners Madison Curry and Morgan Wiese, and forwards Lexi Hiltunen and Jen Estes.
“What’s difficult for us of course is that is this is the end of a chapter for (our senior class), but as I said to the team at the end of the game, I couldn’t be prouder of my team,” Driscoll said. “They fought incredibly, incredibly well in a tough environment against an exceptional team that obviously hadn’t lost a game at home all season and only lost one game (overall).”
Wiese, who played all 110 minutes on the Tiger backline, was part of just the second team this season to turn in a shutout against Texas Tech, along with Texas in what was the Red Raiders’ lone loss this season, in the Big 12 Tournament.
“Sean and the rest of the coaching staff do a really, really amazing job of making this program a family,” Wiese said. “I think that just fosters an environment where we trust each other, we’re close with each other and we would do anything for each other, which has just made this experience all that I could ever ask for and more. I think me and Marissa and all of us are eternally grateful to Sean and the rest of the staff for giving us this experience.”
The NCAA tournament was the second one for both Wiese and Hart, and the second one in which their season ended at the game’s last moment. In 2021, Princeton lost in double-overtime to TCU with a round-of-16 berth on the line.
“I think the fact that this goodbye is so hard goes to show how grateful we are to be a part of this program,” Hart said. “We think the absolute world of our coaches. They have been incredible for us the past four, maybe four and a half, five years now.”