MAD GOOD: Princeton University women’s soccer player Madison Curry, right, goes after the ball during a game earlier this season. Senior defender Curry helped Princeton earn a 1-1 draw at Harvard last Saturday. The Tigers, now 8-2-3 overall and 3-1-1 in the Ivy League, will play at Dartmouth on October 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
MAdison Curry would love to extend her college soccer career until December, when the NCAA Women’s College Cup culminates in Cary, North Carolina.
Curry’s return after a year off for his senior season at Princeton University this fall is one reason the Tigers are aiming so high.
“You see how much it means to her,” Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll said. “It was a major void not having him last year. It just brings a whole new motivation.
Curry has helped the Tigers get off to an 8-2-3 overall and 3-1-1 Ivy League record heading into the final two weeks of the regular season as Princeton plays at Dartmouth on Oct. 21 before hosting Columbia on October 28. draw at Harvard last Saturday, the senior defender helped limit the Ivy League’s best scoring attack. The Crimson had the upper hand in the first half, but the Tigers made adjustments and controlled the game more in the second half. Jen Estes scored Princeton’s goal and goalkeeper Tyler McCamey made six saves to hold off Harvard.
“We really wanted to win,” said Curry, a native of Coto de Caza, California. “We didn’t intend to tie. That being said, I think it’s a good road result. If anything, it instilled confidence in the team. Ivy League games are very tough, no matter who you play. You never know what can happen. I think we’re really optimistic about the direction we can take this season.
Princeton is tied with Harvard for second in the Ivy League, five points behind first-place Brown (5-0 Ivy). The top four teams will face off in the first Ivy League tournament after the regular season. The NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Committee will release its top 16 teams on Thursday in a possible preview of what its NCAA Tournament will look like on Nov. 6. Brown is the only Ivy team currently ranked in the Top 20, but Princeton is ranked ninth in the rankings. RPI.
“A lot of it comes down to our confidence and our will to win,” Curry said. “Looking at the team from a bird’s eye view, I think we’re good enough to compete with anyone, I don’t think that’s a question. I just think that coming from a background of specialization, sometimes we get stuck in this imposter syndrome thinking that maybe we’re not good enough or maybe we won’t be able to win . But I think our mentality this year has been to prove to everyone that last year’s things didn’t go the way we wanted, but this year it’s our chance to leave our mark on football college and Ivy League football.
Curry leaves his mark on the Tigers during his final season. She’s a first-time captain and has helped set the tone for the players, even those who hadn’t played with her before this year. She moved on to a bigger role upon her return.
“My freshman and junior year, I didn’t have to take on a captaincy or leadership role just because I had people older than me,” Curry said. “I’ve had people like Lucy Rickerson with more experience since freshman year. What the team, I think, knew about me coming in was that no matter what, if there’s anything you can never doubt, it’s that I’m going to put in everything I have in every practice and every game. Because I do this, I expect the same from everything else. I’m definitely a lead-by-example type of player and captain.
Curry looks to cap off his Princeton career by helping the team reach new heights. She was selected to the All-Ivy League first team every year she played (2020 had no season due to COVID-19). The last season she played for Princeton in 2021, the team went 15-3-1 and fell in the NCAA tournament in overtime to No. 8 TCU. She was home in California during her gap year and had to watch her teammates struggle in a 9-7-1 campaign in 2022.
“It was definitely a tough year for me,” Curry said. “I left the team because I didn’t feel like I could give what I normally could. Even though the team didn’t have the best season, I think it was for the best. Watching them go up and down just because they were so young and didn’t have a lot of experience, it pushed me to become the best leader and player I could be during my offseason. It just motivated me more if I’m honest.
Curry trained with the semi-professional men’s team, AMSG, led by coach Ismaiel Alkayali. He pushed her to improve on the field and in the gym.
“I was playing with boys just because all my friends were in college,” Curry said. “I played with boys a lot growing up. They don’t give you much room to maneuver, so you always have to improve.
Before returning to Princeton, she trained this summer with the KC Current, the NWSL franchise partly owned by Kansa City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his wife, Brittany. It gave her insight into the demands of professional women, a lifestyle she will continue in January when she enters the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) draft.
“I think Sean and I knew since we came in that I have such a professional mindset in the way I train and the way I play every day that I’m not ready to give it up,” said Curry. “And I want to see what impact I can have in the league because I think I can have a big one.”
Curry will have one season of NCAA eligibility remaining, but doesn’t plan to use it. That would mean leaving Princeton again, this time to play at another university as a graduate student.
“Just because of the relationship I have with the coaches and the team, I can’t imagine playing anywhere else,” Curry said. “Who I am has so much to do with being a Princeton student-athlete and working with Sean and Mike (Poller) that going anywhere else it wouldn’t be the same and I never want to erase those memories .of college football that has been so great. They have been with me through the ups and downs and I have so much to be grateful for and I’m ready to take the next step with them.
Curry hopes to take his game to another level over the next month. She scored a career-high two goals this fall, despite playing defense, and remains essential in the backline, but she is never satisfied with her play.
“I always want to help more and give more,” Curry said. “This year I probably want to go more attacking. I am, but I want to create more quality chances. I think that’s probably the most important thing to me. Defensively, I’m quite satisfied on that side, knock on wood. This creates more quality chances and pushes the overall speed of play to be faster and the will to win, I want to be the driving force of the team more than I have been.
Curry came back hungrier than ever. Her year away inspired her to return with an even greater force than she did during her first two seasons with the Tigers, and it prepared her to progress beyond college football .
“I grew so much during my gap season,” Curry said. “Sean can attest to that. I have matured a lot and become a better person and a better football player. I don’t think I would have been ready a year ago, even after this season. I think taking the time, finding such passion for the game and working with the coaches to see how I fit into the team and as captain has been invaluable. This has been so great for me.
Driscoll believes Princeton has benefited from Curry’s fire. Her other returning players were already motivated to improve from last year, and then they added her to the mix. Her skills stand out, but it’s the way she approaches football that’s perhaps even more important. She is part of a senior class that has passed on its lofty aspirations to younger players.
“When your best players create the standard that people train by, it changes the entire complexion of your team,” Driscoll said. “Madi is pretty much the best player in the league, in my opinion one of the best players in the country, and she leads by example with her work rate. So she doesn’t take a minute off in training, she works incredibly hard from the first minute until the end of the training session – just like she does during a match.
Princeton will need to be at its best when it returns against Ivy on Saturday at Dartmouth. Winning on the road has been quite a challenge in the conference this year for every team, and Dartmouth sits in fourth place, the final spot to qualify for the inaugural Ivy League tournament with one game remaining at Brown.
“I think there’s going to be a lot riding on this game,” Driscoll said. “They really need to win this game knowing they’re going to play Brown and putting themselves in position for the playoffs. I don’t know if they can get a spot with a win (against Princeton), but I know if we win we’ll get one. There’s a lot going on here. It will be very, very interesting.
Driscoll believes the key for any team at this point in the season is to handle pressure and maintain their identity. Princeton has a lot to play for the rest of the regular season. One more championship win puts the Tigers in the Ivy Tournament and further extends their season and the careers of seniors like Curry.
“That’s the beauty of the Ivy League tournament,” Curry said. “A few years ago we would have been in a totally different space with an Ivy League loss, but now we are even more motivated than ever.”