Slow Start Dooms Tiger Men's Lacrosse In Defeat to Top-Ranked Johns Hopkins
By Bill Alden
Scott Sowanick has been focusing on loosening up on the field as he has prepared for his sophomore season with the Princeton University men's lacrosse team. During his freshman year, Sowanick had to overcome some first-year jitters on his way to a 13-goal, 10-assist debut campaign as he helped Princeton reach the NCAA Final Four. Last Saturday, however, Sowanick and his teammates were tight as a drum as they started their season by falling behind 6-0 to top-ranked Johns Hopkins before a record crowd of 6,325 at Class of 1952 Stadium.
With Princeton's offense as chilly as the six-foot snowbanks surrounding the field, Sowanick sparked the third-ranked Tigers, flying in for a spectacular goal on a jump shot with 6:52 left in the second period. Sowanick added two more scores in the quarter to help the Tigers close within 7-3 at the half.
After Princeton saw the deficit increase to 9-3, Sowanick helped the Tigers put together a late rush over the last 10 minutes of the contest. Sowanick, Jason Doneger, and Whitney Hayes all found the back of the cage to narrow the final margin to 9-6.
In reflecting on the setback, Sowanick asserted that he and his teammates had to open things up, particularly in the wake of the graduation of Ryan Boyle, the gifted playmaker who quarterbacked Princeton's attack the last four seasons.
"I think some of us don't have a choice to be tight anymore," said Sowanick, whose four goals established a new single-game career high for the attacker from Bethesda, Md. "If you have a team full of tight players, you're not going to succeed. I'm trying to stay as loose as possible and be the best player I can be."
Sowanick acknowledged that the Tigers will need to get off to quicker starts if they are going to be the best they can be. "Hopkins came out early and put up a bunch of goals and that put us in a hole," explained Sowanick. "We've been told that you need to come out and you need to be the spark. I guess what we learned from this is that you need to be the team to get ahead early."
The Tigers' rally in the second half did give Sowanick some cause for optimism. "Usually anytime you get together at halftime you do a little first half analysis," said Sowanick. "We filled in some holes and it worked out for us, just not enough. We played our hearts out."
Princeton head coach Bill Tierney lamented his club's slow start. "We didn't have the ball much," said Tierney, who credited Hopkins' All-American Kyle Harrison with setting the tone for the Blue Jays with an early goal and assist. "We were a little on our heels; we weren't clearing the ball well. When we did get it, we were a little tight."
Tierney, though, did take some solace in the fact that the match-up didn't degenerate into a rout like the 2004 season opener when Hopkins whipped the Tigers 14-5.
"The kids really stepped up, you've got to give them credit for that," said Tierney, referring to the latter stages of the game.
"In the second half, I felt we played harder. We showed energy, going after ground balls. I thought in stretches there we played very good defense. Last year, they made us look inept. I didn't feel that today. I was happy that we didn't didn't step back and play scared."
The Hall of Fame coach thought he got a spark from Sowanick. "We're going to have to be better, certainly Scotty stepped up his game," said Tierney, who has guided Princeton to six national titles since taking over the program in 1988. "He did some nice things, he didn't play scared out there."
Princeton will have to play without fear on March 12 when they head south to take on second-ranked Virginia, who stunned Syracuse 12-11 last weekend in the Carrier Dome.
"Virginia causes different problems than Hopkins," asserted Tierney. "It's a real come-at-you style of defense. They are very athletic, they push the ball up the field. You hope that with a young team like ours, now that the first one is out of the way, they can get going. Next Saturday night down in Charlottesville isn't going to be any easier than today."
Sowanick, for his part, is confident that the Tigers will do what it takes to get on the right track next week and down the road.
"Monday is our biggest practice day, we're going to get after it," vowed Sowanick. "We're going to continue that all the way up until we play Virginia. We're definitely going to have a chip on our shoulder. We'll be there at the end of the year."
With Sowanick at full throttle, the Tigers should emerge as a force, like usual, when May rolls around.