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When Princeton won the 2007 Ivy League title, there were 15 players on the roster and most of the spots in the starting lineup were all but solidified well before the season opener. Sabrina King, who has won Ivy League titles as both a player and an assistant coach, hopes a new method will lead to similar results this season.
When King, now in her third season as head coach, looks out on her preseason practices, she sees 20 players battling for almost every position on the court.
And that competition is driving the entire roster to one of Princeton's most productive preseasons in years.
"I've been really pleased at the way we have worked throughout the preseason," said King, who has been part of five Ivy League championship teams. "They have competed hard, but they have supported each other throughout the process. There is a really good dynamic in the gym, and strong leadership has been an important part of that."
Princeton lost only one senior starter from the 2012 season, but she was one of the league's most reliable hitters. Lydia Rudnick led the Ivy League in kills and points, and she was a three-time member of the all-league first team.
King doesn't necessarily believe one player needs to step up and replace Rudnick's production; instead, she thinks the offense can find a greater balance, and she is counting on both the experienced returners and the talented newcomers to share that burden.
Princeton could use a countless array of tandems on the outside this weekend alone, several of which include 2013 co-captains Chelsea Parker and Sarah Hanna. Parker averaged a kill per set last season, but she has as much experience as anybody on the roster. Hanna averaged 1.7 kills per set, but she was a starter in 2011 and proved to be a tricky hitter to defend when she was on her game.
Another option could be sophomore Kendall Peterkin, a first-team All-Ivy League honoree last season. Peterkin played the right side last year, and she could remain there this season, but King could experiment with her on the left side as well. Peterkin ranked second in the Ivy League with 3.7 points per set, and she demonstrated her potential with a 27-kill performance in a victory over Harvard.
Freshmen Cara Mattaliano, Ellie Shannon and Mary Claire Bartlett have all pushed the competition in the preseason, and King is excited to see what they can do in the early-season tournaments.
Read all about the Class of 2017 here.
Peterkin does return as the starting right side, but King can test her on the left because of the presence of junior Francie Jenkins. Though her experience is somewhat limited, she has consistently made an impact when she has seen the court, including a victory at Penn.
There is no lack of experience in the middle, as Princeton returns its entire group from last season, and adds a talented newcomers.
Senior Leah Jordan and juniors Tiana Woolridge and Nicole Kincade all played between 58 and 64 sets apiece last season. Kincade had the highest number of kills (2.1) and blocks (1.1) per set, while Jordan had the highest hitting percentage (.336). Woolridge peaked during the Ivy season, though, and was selected for the All-Ivy League Second Team.
Freshman Brittany Ptak, a former All-Orange County first-team honoree, is doing all she can to earn time in the middle rotation.
The setter position has also had quality competition this fall. Junior Ginny Willis, a two-time All-Ivy honoree, is the incumbent starter and averaged more than 10.6 assists per set last season. She has been the primary setter throughout her career, and her big-match experience is a major advantage.
Highly touted freshman Lauren Miller has also played well in the preseason, though, and will likely see some quality time over the next few tournament weekends.
Princeton opens its season this weekend at the George Mason Tournament, including the Friday night opener at George Mason. The Tigers will also play against both Coppin State (11 am) and Radford (5 pm) Saturday.
All three matches can be seen live through the Ivy League Digital Network.