Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 14
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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GIANT EFFORT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse freshman goalie Tyler Fiorito makes one of his career-high 15 saves last Saturday in Princeton’s 12-8 win over second-ranked and defending national champion Syracuse in the inaugural Big City Classic at Giants Stadium. The win improved Princeton to 8-1 overall and helped it jump from No. 5 to No. 2 in this week’s national polls.

Frosh Goalie Fiorito Shuts Door on Syracuse as Tiger Men’s Lacrosse Posts Giant Victory

Bill Alden

Tyler Fiorito made no effort to stop the tide of teammates who engulfed him after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team stunned Syracuse last Saturday.

Freshman goalie Fiorito, though, stopped just about everything he saw the previous two hours, making a career-high 15 saves to spark No. 5 Princeton to a 12-8 win over second-ranked and defending national champion Syracuse in the inaugural Big City Classic at Giants Stadium.

The victory in the clash between programs who have won 15 of the last 21 national titles improved Princeton to 8-1 and helped the Tigers jump to No. 2 in the national rankings behind Virginia, who edged North Carolina in the first game of Saturday’s tripleheader in the Meadowlands which drew 22,305.

It was the second time this season that Fiorito starred in an NFL venue as he produced a sparkling 11-save effort in Princeton’s 14-8 win over Johns Hopkins earlier this month in the Face-Off Classic at M & T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens.

As he savored the victory, a smiling Fiorito said he was comfortable with playing in the big stadiums.

“I think it is pretty easy to get excited for these type of games,” said the 6’2, 200-pound Fiorito, who has compiled a 7.56 goals against average this season.

“It is a great atmosphere; it is pretty hard to stay calm when 20,000 people are screaming at you. We have a great senior leadership that keeps us calm and relaxed. The defense stood together. We have pride for what we stand for as a team and as a defense we played really well.”

The native of Phoenix, Md. has been getting a kick out of stopping players he watched in high school.

“I watched last year’s championship game (between Syracuse and Hopkins) on TV, it’s a little overwhelming (beating them),” said Fiorito, who was a member of the U.S. team that won the Under-19 World Championships last summer.

“I grew up in the Baltimore area, I was going to Hopkins’ games every weekend. Now it is just weird to think that I am playing against these guys I idolized when I was growing up. You are playing against Kenny Nims [of Syracuse] and playing in these type of games.”

It has taken some adjustments for Fiorito to excel in those type of games. “The speed of the game is so much quicker, particularly against Syracuse,” said Fiorito, reflecting on the challenges he has faced in the transition to the college game.

“They move the ball so quick; the other thing is that there are six great shooters who are great scorers. You always have to stay mentally prepared; it is pretty tough. There are flaws in my game at times. As they pick it up, I have to try and bring up my game and hopefully things will go my way.”

Fiorito’s game has been helped by a spirited daily competition with junior goalie Nikhil Ashra.

“Nikhil is great; most of the time I think he is better than I am,” added Fiorito, who has started all nine games this season with Ashra coming off the bench five times.

“I have just made the most of the opportunities coach has given me. I watch him and I am amazed. It has pushed me really hard because I want to keep the players on my side, thinking I am the right guy for the job.”

Fiorito feels lucky to have senior defenseman and co-captain Chris Peyser on his side.

“Chris has been amazing for me; he is probably the best senior leadership I have had,” maintained Fiorito.

“Every minute when I am on the field, he reminds me this is why we play lacrosse, this is why we came to

Tiger head coach Bill Tierney is certainly glad that Fiorito came to Princeton.

“Tyler played a great game; we have been very blessed here with goalies,” said Tierney, who has coached such All-American netminders as Alex Hewitt, Scott Bacigalupo, and Trevor Tierney, his son.

“Whenever I think of how great Tyler is, I have to think quickly to Nikhil Ashra, our back-up goalie who is just as good. I think Tyler will tell you the same thing. It was a big-time game for a big time freshman at a big time venue. He came up big for us.”

The Tigers had a special inspiration to come up big against Syracuse.

“We dedicated this game today to Connor McKemey, a young man who has burns on over 85 percent of his body because of a home accident,” said Tierney, noting that his players wore “Bear Down” stickers on their helmets Saturday in honor of McKemey.

“Connor plays lacrosse in South Carolina. Our guys have been writing to him back and forth. The courage we gained today came from his inspiration.”

The Tigers produced a courageous defensive effort, holding the high-powered Orange scoreless for two separate stretches of at least 13 minutes.

“I think we just dug down,” said Tierney, reflecting on his team’s defensive play.

“When you know your goalie is playing well and is seeing the ball, you tend to get out and be a little bit more aggressive and make some of those slides that other times you are a little hesitant on and I felt that happened today. We worked hard to defend; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it just happened.”

And when Syracuse went on an early run in the third quarter to knot the game at 5-5, the Tigers didn’t lose their aggressiveness.

“It’s been one of those things we have been telling the kids all week, they are going to score goals,” said Tierney, noting that a man-down goal by Brendan Reilly that gave Princeton an 8-6 lead was a key turning point.

“In a game like this you can’t get too flustered if they get a couple of goals … it is going to happen. They are good players. I thought those next two to make it 7-5 were huge and we did it in a business-like mechanical way. Nobody panicked; they just supported one another at the offensive end and they had confidence that the defense would do its job.”

Princeton got a big spark from its first midfield as Mark Kovler scored three goals with Rich Sgalardi chipping in two goals and two assists and Scott MacKenzie contributing a goal and two assists.

“They are fabulous,” asserted Tierney, whose team will look to keep rolling when it hosts Harvard on April 11.

“Dave Metzbower [associate head coach] works with these guys day in and day out and they have been doing so much more film work this year. He has just done a fantastic job with a fantastic group of kids. We made a decision on February 1, which is our first day of practice, to power up and go with Rich, Mark, and Scott. They are playing a lot of lacrosse out there. If it is not one guy today, it seems to be the next. They are just doing a great job.”

In Fiorito’s view, this year’s Tiger squad could go down as a great team. “Coach T has been around for 20 some years and he has coached the best of the Princeton teams and the worst of the Princeton teams and he can compare us,” said Fiorito.

“He tells us we have the potential to be one of the best Princeton teams throughout history but it has to come from us and our hard work. We are incredibly close as a group, there has been bonding particularly with the defense. It’s a young group of guys who are so talented and then you have an older group of guys that are just as talented who are just trying to play hard and mentor the freshmen.”

Based on how Fiorito has quickly developed into a clutch goalie, he has soaked up some good things from those mentors.

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