Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 8
 
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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GAME CHANGE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star midfielder Scott MacKenzie fires a shot in action last season. MacKenzie figures to be a key player this spring for Princeton, which is starting a new era as head coach Chris Bates takes over for Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney after he left Princeton last June to guide the Denver University program. The Tigers get their 2010 season underway when they host Hofstra on February 27.

With Head Coach Bates Taking the Helm, PU Men’s Lax Opens New Era Against Hofstra

Bill Alden

Chris Bates knows a lot about the Hofstra University men’s lacrosse team.

As the head coach of the Drexel University lax team the last decade, Bates fought annual battles with Hofstra in Colonial Athletic Association play.

But as the new head coach of the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, Bates has a lot to learn about the eighth-ranked Tigers as they get ready for their season opener on February 27 against visiting Hofstra.

“It’s an interesting process, this is the first time I have inherited a team,” said Bates, who is taking over for Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney after he left Princeton last June to guide the Denver University program.

“Throughout the summer I tried to call each guy so they could put a voice with the face. Once they got back to school, I had a team meeting and it was a unique feeling. They don’t know me and I didn’t know them.”

In Bates’ view, the Princeton players have responded well to their new leadership.

“Change is an opportunity for growth and they are charged up,” said Bates, noting that the transition has been aided by the presence of Greg Raymond, a former Tiger assistant who spent last year on Bates’ staff at Drexel before coming with him to Princeton.

“They did a good job over the summer. They had a month without a coach and they decided to support whoever was going to be the new coach. There was a lot of back and forth between them and I think it helped them bond together.”

While Bates respects the storied history of a program that has won six national titles in the last 18 years, he is tweaking the culture a bit.

“I am looking at the next hurdle to clear,” said Bates, who went 70-71 in his decade at Drexel with a 31-17 mark in his last three seasons.

“The history of the program is part of their DNA but none of these guys has been to the Final Four and I am not afraid to remind them of that.”

Bates has not been afraid to shake up the team’s daily routine and offensive approach as he looks to get the Tigers to improve on the 13-3 mark they posted in 2009 when they went to the NCAA quarterfinals.

“We do things a little differently day to day,” explained Bates. “For starters the practices are a little shorter. We demand full speed effort right from the start. We are playing more people on offense; we will have more two-way middies. We are playing a different offensive scheme; with lots of basketball and indoor lacrosse concepts. The guys are adapting; it is still a work in progress.”

Bates is confident he will get some good work at attack from junior star attackman Jack McBride, a second-team All American last year when he scored 42 points on 35 goals and seven assists.

“Jack is a dynamic on-ball player,” said Bates. “He is nearly impossible to stop when he wants to go to the goal. We are trying to make him a more well-rounded player in terms of feeding and cutting. He is evolving as a player and a leader.”

McBride’s cousin, fellow junior attacker Chris McBride, has impressed Bates.

“Chris has been wonderful; he sees the field well,” said Bates of McBride, who had 24 points in 2009 on 18 goals and six assists. “He has been a pleasant surprise. He and Jack have an innate look for each other on the field; I think that is from playing together in high school (at Delbarton).”

Others in the mix at attack include senior Rob Engelke, sophomore Alex Capretta and Cliff Larkin, and imposing 6’6, 250-pound freshman Forest Sonnenfeldt.

“Engelke knows the game; he is a steady player and great feeder,” added Bates. “Alex is a good, strong player. Larkin and Sonnenfeldt will get minutes; how much will depend on how they respond in game situations. There are a lot of questions to be answered.”

There is no question as to Princeton’s top player in the offensive midfield with the return of senior Scott MacKenzie, who had a breakout season last year with 29 points on 13 goals and 16 assists.

“MacKenzie can’t help being a go-to player; he worked hard to improve his shooting,” said Bates. “He is like Atlas; he has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He is a dynamic player; we will go as he goes.”

Bates is still figuring out who he will go to in the rest of his midfield rotation. The candidates include freshmen Mike Chanenchuk and Jeff Froccaro, sophomore Mike Grossman, senior Paul Barnes, and junior Tyler Moni, a former Princeton High standout.

Sophomore John Cunningham figures to see a lot of action at longstick midfield while senior Jimmy Davis and sophomore Connor Reilly should hold the fort at shortstick midfield.

At defense, Princeton features another dynamic player and leader in senior captain Jeremy Hirsch.

“Hirsch has been all we expected in terms of on-field presence, competitiveness, and off-field presence,” asserted Bates.

“He is our sole captain, that is tough with 45 high achieving players who have big egos and strong opinions.”

One of Princeton’s strongest players, sophomore defender Chad Wiedmaier, a second-team All-American last year, will be out until mid-season with a knee injury.

“Chad is a special athlete; he is going hard at rehab,” said Bates. “The best case scenario is a return in mid-to-late March. We are expecting a full recovery but even if Chad is a little rusty, he is an effective player.”

Wiedmaier’s absence could have a silver lining for the Tigers. “It does allow us to develop some other guys,” said Bates. “Long Ellis and Jonathan Meyers will get minutes and you can’t substitute that game experience.”

Bates is enjoying the experience of coaching gifted sophomore goalie Tyler Fiorito, who gave up just 7.40 goals a game last year as he earned honorable mention All-American recognition.

“Tyler is a special goalie,” said Bates, who is also impressed with senior back-up Nikhil Ashra.

“I have to remind the defense that just because the other team didn’t score due to a great save doesn’t mean that they executed well. We can’t rely on him to win us games but I don’t think he will lose us any games. He’s an unflappable kid; he’s developing skills as a leader. He is going to be a glue guy.”

The Tigers face a tough challenge in their opener against 11th-ranked Hofstra.

“Hofstra is interesting for us; they know my offense so they will be prepared for it,” said Bates.

“There are pros and cons because I know them well. First games are always miserable; you are playing new guys and you don’t know how guys are going to respond.”

As the new guy in town, Bates is ready to respond to the pressure of replacing the legendary Tierney.

“I am honored to be coaching here; I am as competitive as anyone,” said Bates. “My goals are lofty; we need to weather the ups and downs. I can only do it my way and establish my own footprint.”

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