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Princeton poised to crash final four

PRINCETON, N.J. (CP) - Sparked by Canadian Diane Matheson, the Princeton women's soccer team is going where no Ivy League team has gone: to the final four of a 64-team NCAA championship tournament.

The Tigers (19-2) face UCLA (17-6) on Friday in the NCAA Women's College Cup at Cary, N.C. The Bruins and the other semifinalists, Santa Clara (18-4-2) and Notre Dame (whose 23-1-1 roster includes Melissa Tancredi of Ancaster, Ont., Katie Thorlakson of Langley, B.C., and Candace Chapman of Ajax, Ont.), are perennial top 10 programs with a combined 17 previous final four appearances. Seventh-seeded Princeton recently joined the club.

"We've really been clicking," said senior Esmeralda Negron, the school's leading scorer and a two-time Ivy League player of the year. "Everybody's at the top of their game. It's not just one or two players playing well."

Negron, one of three New Jersey natives on the Tigers' roster, has benefited from the presence of Matheson.

The five-foot-two Matheson is the team's engine, tirelessly directing play from her midfield position and expertly controlling the game's tempo.

"She's definitely raised the overall level of the team this season," coach Julie Shackford said. "She's a true playmaker, and we haven't really had that before."

Matheson, a 20-year-old freshman from Oakville, Ont., has plenty of experience despite her youth. She has 29 caps for Canada since making her national team debut in March 2003 against Norway at the Algarve Cup and is thought of highly by Canadian coach Even Pellerud.

The Tigers feature a World Cup veteran, the school's career leading scorer and a defence that has allowed one goal in its last six hours of play.

Shackford doesn't think her players will be in awe of their opponents Friday.

"In a lot of ways it really is just another game for us," she said. "This group is pretty confident, and they feel good about the fact that they can play with anybody. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds."

In the semifinals, Shackford will be facing UCLA coach Jillian Ellis, her friend from their days as high school players in northern Virginia and as teammates at William & Mary in the mid-1980s. Ellis is the godmother of Shackford's daughter Cameron.

When Shackford arrived at Princeton in 1995, the Tigers had not finished in the top half of the Ivy League in five years. This year, they reached the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season.

Still, this season may have surpassed everyone's expectations.

"I don't think anybody comes to the Ivy League thinking they are going to get to the final four," Shackford said. "You come thinking you're going to try and win the Ivy League and get in the NCAA Tournament."

Princeton earned its way into the 2004 semifinals by winning the Ivy League title - its fourth in the last five years. Now the Tigers are peaking in the post-season. In four NCAA tournament games, Princeton has outscored its opponents 11-1.

The third prong of Princeton's attack is junior midfielder Emily Behncke, whose free-ranging style complements Negron's work around the goal.

When Negron was held scoreless against Boston College in the round of 16, Behncke scored both goals in the 2-0 victory. In Princeton's 3-1 win over Washington in the quarter-finals, she scored the first goal and helped set up the next two, by Negron and Kristina Fontanez.

Princeton's defence has been nearly flawless, allowing nine goals in 21 games and never more than one goal in any game.

Notes: Notre Dame's Thorlakson had a goal and two assists as the Irish defeated Portland and Canadian star forward Christine Sinclair 3-1 to reach the semifinals.


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My sister actually played on the same OYSL team as Matheson for a few years and let me tell you she is one extremely gifted player. The first time I saw here she was head and shoulders above (ironically - considering her height) every other girl on the pitch... and my sisters team wasn't that bad either as they finished first or second that year. Matheson was playing at a another level though. I commented to both my sister and mother that she had what it took to make the national team though I can't claim that I ever believed that she'd do it in time to win a starting spot for the WWC. Having see "D" play the way she can it's truly disappointing though to see her forced to play the Pellerud anti-soccer the WNT plays. Sometimes you'll see moments of her own more intelligent style trying to poke through but most of the time it's hoof, hoof, hoof just like the rest of Pellerud's soccerbots.


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Unfortunately you two are wrong to think that the WNT and Pellerud play anti-soccer or hoof, hoof as you call it. Women soccer is not men soccer. It is very different with different mentalities. The problem if there is one, is that girls as youngters are taught the wrong style, too much alike how boys play. Our present system of coaching qualifications CCY/CCS does not differentiate between male soccer and female soccer. It is really based on just male soccer. That needs to change.

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Lets be honest. Pellerud wasn't brought in to make the women's team better. He was brought in to compete. Look at horrible the U-19's played in Asia, but they got out of their group. Same with the WWC team.

But not all-Canadian soccer is played that lowest common dominator of kick it up and over 50 yards.

The Ottawa Fury with Parker and Matheson in the middle play the way Canadian girls could play, if given the chance. They can move the ball around. They can maintain possession. They can make that deft 10-yard on the ground pass that crush their opponent. And before anyone says anything- the top W-league teams are better than half the teams at the World Cup.

Our women can do more than compete; they could win the whole thing.

They just need a coach who isn’t living in 1994 and who doesn't underestimate our talent base.

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