by Tom Utescher

Princeton senior Katie Reinprecht, a former star at Mount St. Joseph Academy, was named the NCAA’s Longstreth/NFHCA Player of the Year after the Tigers won the national championship on November 18. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Even in the storied field hockey careers of Mount St. Joseph Academy graduates Katie (’08) and Julia Reinprecht (’09), 2012 will stand out as a banner year.

In August, the sisters played on the U.S. Olympic Team at the Summer Games in London, and this month they participated in the NCAA Division I tournament along with their Princeton University teammates.

After skipping the 2011 collegiate season to train with other Olympic Team candidates, the Reinprechts endured a disappointing experience in England, as the U.S. finished with an overall record of 1-5.

Returning to Princeton for the 2012 NCAA campaign, the sibling sticksters began another quest for gold, and this time they got everything they’d been hoping for.

Coming from behind twice, the second-seeded Tigers defeated number one North Carolina 3-2 in the national championship game in Norfolk, Va. on November 18.

In regular season play, Princeton won its eighth consecutive Ivy League title (determined by team records), finishing 7-0. Katie Reinprecht, now a senior, was unanimously selected Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, while also leading the team in assists. Her junior sister Julia, who is also a midfielder and is the primary flyer on defensive penalty corners, won First Team honors in the Ivy for the third time.

A few days after the Tigers captured the NCAA crown, Katie Reinprecht received the highest individual honor in the college game, being named the Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Assoc. Player of the Year.

“I’m incredibly honored by it,” the senor said. “I’m not sure if I’m the most deserving – there are so many incredible athletes I’ve played with, and played against. It’s extremely humbling, and it makes me even more thankful for the support I’ve had at Princeton and my relationship with my teammates and my coaches.”

Back during Katie Reinprecht’s junior year, Tigers head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn made the following comments about her, and it’s highly unlikely the Princeton skipper feels any differently now:

“She’s a competitor to the core. When you watch a game, her work rate is unparalleled. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a player be able to sustain and keep the quality as high as she’s able to do. That’s just amazing, and then you couple that with her mentality. She’s just got this steely demeanor – she’s so determined and focused. Thirdly, you have the skill, so she’s absolutely the complete package. She’s unreal.”

Both Katie and Julia were All-Americans in high school, and during their tenure at Mount St. Joe’s they helped the Magic roll up four straight Catholic Academies championships and back-to-back PIAA District 1 titles. The Mount was the state runner-up in 2006 and a semifinalist in 2007.

In Katie’s freshman year at Princeton, the team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinal round. Julia joined the program the next year, helping the Tigers finish up in the semifinals in 2009, and then the quarterfinals in 2010.

Going into residency to train with other Olympic Team hopefuls, both sisters left college for the 2011-2012 academic year, as did Princeton forwards Kat Sharkey (’13) and Michelle Cesan (’14). The two Mount grads were picked for the Olympic squad and Cesan was named as an alternate, but in London the U.S. only managed a single victory, beating the eventual silver medalist, Argentina.

Katie Reinprecht related that she’s often been asked if she viewed her one remaining season of eligibility at Princeton as some kind of opportunity for redemption.

“I didn’t really look at it that way, but I was glad that I had a plan after the Games, something to look forward to,” she said. “I was very excited to get back to the Princeton team and have that family feeling that I remembered from my three previous seasons.”

During the 2012 collegiate campaign, the only blemish on the record for the Reinprechts and their Princeton squad would be a 2-0 loss to Syracuse in late September.

During the many months she’d spent practicing with the U.S. Team, Reinprecht said, “I learned a lot more about training and what works best for me. I think the four girls who trained in California brought a high level of expectation when we came back to Princeton. You realize how powerful chemistry is, and how every single player contributes to that.”

For the start of the NCAA tournament, the Tigers took a 17-1 record south to the University of Virginia, where the first two rounds would be played.

Dispatching Drexel in the first round, 5-0, the Tigers moved into the quarterfinals against UVA’s Lady Cavaliers and the Reinprechts’ Olympic teammate, Paige Selinski (from near Wilkes Barre, Pa.). Katie Reinprecht recorded a goal as Princeton downed number seven UVA, 5-2.

For the Final Four, the action shifted across the state to the Norfolk campus of Old Dominion University.

In regulation play during Princeton’s November 16 semifinal match, defending national champion Maryland rallied twice to tie the Tigers, the second time on a penalty stroke. In overtime, the Tigers had their own turn at the stroke line, and Ivy Freshman of the Year Teresa Benvenuti converted for a 3-2 victory that put Princeton in the championship game. In the other semifinal, number five Syracuse collapsed as North Carolina avenged its lone loss of the regular season, romping 6-1.

In the 2011 title bout, UNC had been leading Maryland 2-0 with four minutes remaining, but Terrapins freshman Katie Gerzabek, a Girls Inter-Ac League product from the Academy of Notre Dame, started a late rally and the Terps prevailed 3-2 in overtime.

This year UNC struck first once again, with the Tar Heels’ big gun, Britain’s Charlotte Craddock (a sophomore), scoring on a direct drive off a penalty corner a little under a dozen minutes in. Almost midway through the first period, both Reinprecht sisters were credited with assists as Princeton knotted it up, 1-1, on a strike by the nation’s leading scorer, senior Kat Sharkey (38 goals, nine assists, total).

When Katie Reinprecht was a Mount St. Joe senior and Julia was a junior, the Magic ventured up to Wilkes Barre for a match against scoring ace Sharkey and her Wyoming Seminary squad. After Sharkey rang up a hat trick in Sem’s 3-2 victory, the MSJ sisters were happy that they’d been playing alongside her, rather than opposite her, in college.

“It was tough enough having to go against her in practice,” Katie Reinprecht revealed. “She just has crazy joints; she can twist her wrists and turn you in ways you’re not used to at all. She took it to an even higher level this year and she was a great leader for our forward line.”

After Sharkey tied the score for Princeton in the NCAA championship game, Julia Reinprecht almost moved the Tigers ahead with three minutes to go in the half, but her shot from close range in the right side of the circle was saved at the near post by UNC’s German goalie, Sassi Ammer.

A player that North Carolina acquired much closer to home, Charlotte native Julie Plyler, had the Heels ahead once more, 2-1, as she got the tip-in off a whack by Craddock 11 minutes into the second period.

“We’ve been in that situation before, and it’s definitely hard to have to come back against a team like North Carolina,” Reinprecht said. “There’s a lot of composure on our team, though, and we believe that if we can stay with our plan and execute, we will win.”

About 10 minutes later, Princeton pulled even on a goal that sophomore Allison Evans (Emmaus, Pa.) stuffed in off of a rebound.

For the second game in a row, the Tigers got their game-winning goal on a penalty stroke. A Canadian import, junior Amanda Bird, cashed in on the foul against the Heels, putting the final score on the board with 10:08 remaining. After two more minutes, the UNC called a time-out and sent an extra field player onto the pitch in place of its keeper, Ammer.

With six-and-a-half minutes to go, North Carolina restarted on a corner and got the ball up top to the dangerous Craddock, but Julia Reinprect arrived in time to block the shot. The Heels sent the ball back down near to the right post, but Katie Reinprecht cleared it out along the endline. This was perhaps UNC’s last best chance to tie, and after a long empty-cage Princeton shot drifted wide to the left, the 3-2 count became the final score.

Her college playing career now over, the elder Reinprecht sister will put field hockey on the back burner, at least for now.

Katie will be graduating with a degree in Sociology, and she revealed, “Before I go back to full-time residency [with USA Field Hockey] I’d like to get some job experience under my belt. I don’t have very much due to all the time I’ve dedicated to field hockey.”

Before actually playing in London last summer, she said, “I thought the Olympics this year might be my last hurrah. But having been there and having that experience, I realized it’s something I’d like to do again. I’ll take some time away from it now, but I think eventually I want to get back into the program and see if I can make it to Rio in 2016.”

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