Life Without Boyle Starts for Princeton Men's Lax As 3rd-Ranked Tigers Host No. 1 Johns Hopkins
By Bill Alden
For the last four years, the Princeton University men's lacrosse team relied on Ryan Boyle to trigger its offense.
The gifted Boyle utilized his passing skills to put together one of the greatest careers in Princeton history, ending up second all-time at the school in assists (162) and points (232).
Boyle saved his best for last in 2004 when he was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and a first-team All American as he carried a freshman-laden Tiger squad to an 11-4 record and a Final Four appearance.
Life after Boyle starts this Saturday with a formidable challenge as the Tigers host top-ranked Johns Hopkins.
Princeton head coach Bill Tierney acknowledges that not having Boyle in the attack is going to be a major adjustment.
"It's been a little more difficult than I thought it would be," said Tierney, referring to carrying on without Boyle. "Ryan was an on-the-field coach and that's what we miss the most."
But Tierney, a Hall of Fame coach who has led Princeton to six national titles in his first 17 years at the helm of the Tiger program, is confident that senior attacker Jason Doneger can fill the leadership void left by Boyle.
"Jason is one of the best leaders we've ever had," asserted Tierney of the powerful 6'1, 205-pound Hewlett, N.Y. native, who was an All-Ivy performer last year. "He's an inspiration."
While Doneger doesn't handle the ball like Boyle did, he possesses one of the most powerful shots in the history of the program, bringing a career-total of 86 goals into his final college campaign.
"Jason has been our best player, he has stepped his game up," asserted Tierney, whose club is ranked No. 3 nationally. "He has played well in our scrimmages, he's scored a couple of goals in each game."
Tierney is also expecting big things from his pair of sophomore attackers, Peter Trombino and Scott Sowanick.
Last season, Trombino scored a goal in every game, totaling 24 on the season as he was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Sowanick, for his part, chipped in 23 points on 13 goals and 10 assists.
In Tierney's view, the sophomore duo may ultimately benefit from Boyle's departure. "They are playing looser," explained Tierney. "Last year, they were not only trying to impress the coaches but looking to please Boyle. They are feeling their way."
A freshman, Alex Haynie, also figures to make an impact. "Alex is a good ballhandler," said Tierney. "He's a little thin so I'm not sure how he will hold up to the pounding of college lacrosse. He's shown strong skills, he's a left-handed feeder."
In the midfield, Tierney has a variety of options. Currently, he's running freshman Bob Schneider and sophomores Mike Gaudio and Whitney Hayes, a former Princeton High star, on his first line.
His second midfield group consists of junior Jim O'Brien, Sophomore Michael Biles, and freshman Pete Striebel.
"We're trying a lot of guys in the midfield," said Tierney, whose program has won or shared the Ivy League title 10 years in a row and will establish a league record for consecutive Ivy titles in any sport if it can keep the streak going in 2005.
"Either that means we're really glad that we have a lot of guys who are interchangeable or nobody really stands out. I think it's the former. We have a lot of kids who play hard."
Tierney knows he has a standout in his backline with senior captain Oliver Barry. "Oliver is so solid," said Tierney of the 2004 first-team All-Ivy selection. "In a lot of cases, he will cover the other team's best player. His work ethic has put him in the position he's in."
Senior Tim Sullivan will help Barry anchor Princeton's back line with a quartet of players in sophomores John Bennett, Zach Jungers, and Will Presti, together with freshman Dan Cocoziello, also likely to see playing time.
"Bennett is a long-stick while Cocoziello and Presti are classic close defenders," added Tierney, who is nationally known for his defensive wizardry. "Jungers is the most versatile. We will work all of those guys."
In goal, junior Dave Law, who gave up 7.76 goals a game as the starter last year, will likely get the bulk of the action between the pipes.
"It's Dave's job, he's done nothing to lose it," said Tierney. "Matt Larkin has improved a lot; he's really made some big strides. Freshman Alex Hewit is looking good. We have three good guys, all could see action."
Tierney knows that his defense will be under fire this Saturday when it faces high-powered Johns Hopkins, who also made it to the Final Four last season.
"There is a good reason they are ranked No. 1," said Tierney. "They have seniors who have started all four years. Maybe it's better to start with them than to get some momentum and have them smash it."
The Tigers should gain momentum as the season unfolds. "I think we will be better in May than we are in February," said Tierney, who has a lifetime record of 28-9 in NCAA tournament play.
"Our goal is to win an Ivy title and then compete for a national title. It's a great group of kids. Effort-wise and attitude-wise, it's one of the best groups we've ever had."
That kind of spirit will come in handy as the Tigers try to prosper without Boyle pulling the trigger.