With Givens Showing Confident Finishing Touch, PU Women’s Soccer Tops Monmouth 3-0 in Opener

FLYING START: Princeton University women’s soccer player Abby Givens flies over a Monmouth defender last Friday evening. Sophomore forward Givens scored two goals in the contest to help spark Princeton to a 3-0 win over the Hawks in its season opener. On Sunday, Givens added another goal as the Tigers topped Villanova 2-0 to improve to 2-0. Princeton plays at North Carolina State (3-0) on September 1 and at Wake Forest (4-0) on September 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Abby Givens displayed flashes of brilliance last fall in her freshman season for the Princeton University women’s soccer team.

Getting better as the 2016 season went on, forward Givens ended up tallying three goals and three assists.

Hitting the field at Roberts Stadium last Friday evening for the season opener against visiting Monmouth, Givens brought a calmness into the contest with the experience of one college season under her belt.

“You know the speed of play a little bit better as a sophomore versus being a freshman,” said Givens, a native of Charlotte, N.C. “It contributes a lot to confidence on the ball.”

Looking extremely confident and skilled on the ball, Givens scored two goals to help spark Princeton to a 3-0 win over the Hawks.

The Tigers came out flying against the Hawks, outshooting their in-state rival 10-2 in the first half.

“I think we came out with the mentality at the start that this was going to set the tone for the rest of our season,” said Givens.

“We were going to come 110 percent. At times, we were not settling down enough but we took it to them from start to finish.”

Despite dominating possession, Princeton found itself knotted in a scoreless tie until Tiger senior defender Natalie Larkin broke the ice by scoring with 16:40 left in that half.

“Natalie will run forever and ever; she will be just as effective in the defensive third as she will be in the attacking third,” said Givens.

“Her goal definitely settled us down a little bit; it allowed us to start playing our game.”

Givens helped the Tigers seize control of the game, dribbling through the Monmouth defense in the box and skipping the ball past the Hawks goalie Amanda Knaub to make it 2-0 with 1:15 remaining in the half.

“That was a lot of luck, that is what it was,” said Givens, reflecting on her initial tally.

“That wasn’t the best of goals but it went into the back of the net so at the end of the day, it is a goal.”

At intermission, the Tiger coaches beseeched their players to not let up despite the two-goal cushion.

“Our coach [Sean Driscoll] said with a 2-0 lead, the next goal determines whether they are coming back into the game or if we are putting them away for good,” said Givens. “The message at halftime was don’t stop.”

Givens got that next goal, knocking in a feed from Larkin with 20:47 remaining in regulation as Princeton extended its lead to 3-0.

“It was Mimi Asom’s cheeky back heel and perfect service that just happened,” recalled Givens. “It was a lot of work from the team.”

Stepping into the striker role held by graduated star Tyler Lussi, the program’s all-time leading scorer who is now playing for the Portland Thorns of the national Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Givens is developing a partnership with junior standout Asom.

“Mimi is an easy player to play with, she makes things happen,” said Givens, who kept up her hot start, tallying a goal as Princeton defeated Villanova 2-0 last Sunday.

“It is very easy to work with her up top and with Courtney [O’Brien], Tomi [Kennedy] and Vanessa [Gregoire] as well. We have a heck of an attacking group.”

Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll liked the way his team attacked at both ends of the field from the opening whistle.

“The mentality was to play high pressure the entirety of the game and put them under duress,” said Driscoll.

“The kids were so excited to play anyway. It is opening night, there is always pent-up excitement. It was the best way to go. I thought we did a really good job as a group defending. We didn’t allow too many chances, particularly in the first half. We did a really good job of winning the ball high up the field and creating some chances of our own. It was a really positive first step for us.”

Driscoll was not surprised to see Givens step up individually. “Abby is a special player; she started picking up late in the season last year,” said Driscoll.

“We have seen it throughout the spring and preseason: she has a knack for scoring goals. She has a lot of components. She is fast, she is athletic, she has very good skills, she is very composed in front of goal, and has a nose for the goal. When you have those things, you can be successful.”

Senior star Larkin also gives the Tigers a lot. “Natalie is the epitome of work rate and what we stand for,” asserted Driscoll.

“She is tireless and did a great job as an attacking wide back getting a goal when we were struggling to score. We created some chances but couldn’t find the back of the net. In that moment, she kind of changed everything for us.”

In Driscoll’s view, he got good work from all 18 players who got into the opener.

“Our hope is to play as many kids as we can to keep spirits as high as we can,” said Driscoll, whose team will look to keep on the winning track as it plays at 21st-ranked North Carolina State (3-0) on September 1 and at Wake Forest (4-0) on September 3.

“I thought all the kids that set foot on the field tonight gave us something. The depth is critical and that is what we are trying to hammer home to the team. Some players may be playing a little bit less than in the past in the best interests of the overall group.”

Givens, for her part, is confident that the Tigers will keep producing spirited efforts.

“We have just got to keep the mentality up and the work rate up,” said Givens.

“We are a very deep team from top to bottom. Everyone can run, everyone can play and everybody is confident on the ball. It is going to be really great to see how we all step up and contribute to this team’s success.”