Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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MID-RANGE BOMBER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse midfield star Mark Kovler races up the field in a 2008 game. Kovler, who missed the last month of the season due to a broken ankle, scored 16 goals and was named as an honorable mention All-American. Kovler and the Tigers will return to the action this Saturday when they start their 2009 season by hosting Canisius.

PU Men’s Lacrosse Exuding Upbeat Approach as It Prepares for Season Opener With Canisius

Bill Alden

Last spring, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team struggled to find an identity as it played inconsistently and lost its final two games to miss out on the NCAA tournament.

As the Tigers prepare for their 2009 season opener this Saturday against visiting Canisius, Princeton head coach Bill Tierney likes the personality this year’s squad has been exuding.

“It’s a team that is still in the development stages and the games could alter things but in my 22 years of coaching at Princeton, this is the most fun group I have ever had to work with,” said Tierney, whose 2008 team went 7-6 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play, finishing the season with losses to Dartmouth and Brown.

“Through the first 10 days of practice, it has been a pleasure to be around them. They like to work hard.”

The team’s chemistry was enhanced by an off-season trip to Spain and Ireland last June.

“It’s a group of good guys,” said Tierney, whose team went 3-0 on the trip, posting two wins over the English national team and a victory over the English U-19 team. “The trip made them even tighter and helped put last season behind us.”

In order to get back to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers will need some tight play from its attack unit whose top line will feature senior star Tommy Davis and sophomore cousins Jack McBride and Chris McBride.

Davis led the Tigers in both goals (23) and assists (16) last spring while Jack McBride was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year after piling up 19 goals and two assists and then helped the U.S. win the Under-19 World Championship over the summer.

“Tommy and Jack worked well together last year,” said Tierney, whose team averaged 8.98 goals per game last spring as it failed to go to the NCAAs for just the second time in the last 19 seasons.

“Jack and Chris have been playing together forever so it’s a natural fit for them to be together. They are becoming a threesome and trying to adapt to a slightly new system. Tommy is the quarterback while Jack and Chris are young guys looking to score goals.”

Others in the mix at attack include senior tri-captain Greg Seaman, junior Rob Engelke, and a pair of freshmen Alex Capretta and Cliff Larkin.

In the midfield, the Tigers will be going big, featuring seniors Mark Kovler (6’0, 190) and Rich Sgalardi (6’0, 190) together with junior Scott MacKenzie (6’5, 210) as the top line.

Kovler, who has earned All-American status the last three years, had 18 points on 16 goals and two assists before getting sidelined for the last month with a broken ankle. MacKenzie scored 12 points on four goal and eight assists while Sgalardi had 11 points before suffering an injury.

“They are three powerful guys; we decided to put them together and muscle up,” said Tierney. “So far, so good.”

The second offensive midfield trio should feature former Princeton High standout Tyler Moni, a sophomore who made big strides on the trip to Europe and has continued that progress in the preseason.

The defensive midfield will be led by senior tri-captain Brendan Reilly and talented classmate Josh Lesko with junior Jimmy Davis and freshman Peter Smyth also seeing time with that unit.

The top longstick midfielder will be senior and preseason All-American Charlie Kolkin with junior Chris Chandler as a top backup. Promising freshman John Cunningham, who Tierney sees as a future All-American, will also get plenty of time at the pole.

On defense, the Tigers will be led by senior tri-captain Chris Peyser and junior Jeremy Hirsch with precocious freshman Chad Weidmaier looking like an emerging force.

“Peyser and Hirsch are the leaders,” said Tierney, who loses All-American Dan Cocoziello from a defensive unit that helped hold Princeton’s foes to 8.59 goals a game last season.

“We have had some great defenseman and Wiedmaier has the potential to be one of the best. He is a phenomenal athlete. Peyser runs the defense; he’s been doing that the last three years and we really need that this year since we have two new goalies back there.”

Tierney will also look to plug freshman football star Jonathan Meyers into his defense somewhere.

“Jonathan Meyers is rough around the edges, part-time lacrosse players don’t get the fall to hone their skills so he is playing catchup,” said Tierney of the 6’1, 220-pound Meyers who broke his foot early in the football season.

“He is a phenomenal student, you don’t have to tell him things twice. He may not see a lot of action in the beginning but by the end, he could be something.”

The goalie situation is something the Tigers need to figure out quickly as they replace the graduated Alex Hewit, a three-time All-American.

While Princeton will miss Hewit, the Tigers have two superb candidates for the position in skilled junior Nikhil Ashra and highly-touted freshman Tyler Fiorito, who played with McBride on the U.S. U-19 world championship team.

“They are really similar, like mirror images,” said Tierney in assessing Ashra and Fiorito. “One is a righty; one is a lefty. They are both big and very talented. If they are equal, we will do a rotation.”

While Princeton has plenty of talent on hand with its returning stars and a freshman class that was ranked No. 1 by Inside Lacrosse magazine, Tierney knows that the team needs to take care of basics to get back to the NCAAs.

“We blew a great opportunity last year, we didn’t take care of the little things,” acknowledged Tierney, who has guided the Tigers to six NCAA titles.

“We lost some one-goal games and didn’t show up in some other games. Our senior class is a really wonderful group; they are working hard with the younger guys.”

In order to get over the hump, the Tigers will need to be more offensive.

“We have got to find a way to score more goals,” said Tierney, who lists goalie play and winning faceoffs as two other areas that must be solid.

“With the first midfield, we come at teams in six different ways. If the other team has the wrong guy on one of those six, any of them can score. I feel good about that. I feel we have improved in transition.”

Princeton will need to demonstrate that improvement right away as it deals with the challenge posed by a dangerous Canisius team.

“They will be tough; they lost to Colgate 15-11 in their opener,” said Tierney.

“They have a lot of Canadian players who are skilled. Hopefully we will get a chance to see them before this year’s game. You can’t take anything for granted. Except for the top two or three teams, there is a lot of parity. There is not a lot of difference between four and twenty.”

If Princeton can add a killer instinct to go with its positive personality, the Tigers could again make a difference on the national scene.

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