Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 12
 
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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IGNITION SWITCH: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Josh Lesko looks for an opening in action last spring. Lesko’s switch this season to the defensive shortstick midfield unit from the first midfield has given the Tigers a spark. Last Friday, the speedy Lesko displayed his array of skills, tallying two goals as fifth-ranked Princeton outgunned No. 17 Albany to improve to 5-1. In upcoming action, the Tigers start their Ivy League campaign by playing at Yale on March 28.

Ignited by Lesko’s Flair in Defensive Midfield, Princeton Men’s Lacrosse Outguns Albany 18-11

Bill Alden

Josh Lesko’s offensive production has been heading in the wrong direction during his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

During his freshman season in 2006, Lesko tallied 17 points on 11 goals and six assists. A year later, Lesko was down to nine points and then managed just five points last spring in his junior season.

Coming into this spring, Lesko decided to make a change in direction as he sought a shift to the team’s shortstick midfield defensive unit.

“I knew we had a void there with Zack Goldberg graduating,” said the 5’10, 185-pound Lesko, a native of New Canaan, Conn. who starred in football, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Deerfield Academy. “I thought it would be a better fit for me.”

Lesko has proved to be a perfect fit in his new role, utilizing his speed to track down foes on defense and then initiate end-to-end rushes to jump start the Princeton offense.

Last Friday, Lesko displayed his array of skills, scoring two goals as No. 5 Princeton outgunned No. 17 Albany 18-11 at Class of 1952 Stadium to improve to 5-1 on the season.

Lesko, who has regained his scoring touch with six points so far this season, is relishing his new position.

“It has definitely been a little different but at the same time I am enjoying it thoroughly,” said Lesko.

“It’s a lot of gratification being on defense because you learn how the whole Princeton defense works. I played offense my whole life being in six-on-six situations. I found that having that open field is actually a benefit for me, trying to run and find open space.”

In the win over Albany, Princeton certainly opened things up offensively, erupting for six goals in the first quarter and then adding five more in the third to put the game out of reach.

Sophomore star Jack McBride led the way with six goals while Mark Kovler and Chris McBride added four apiece and Rich Sgalardi chipped in two.

“That first midfield [Kovler, Sgalardi, and Scott MacKenzie] and our attack with Tommy [Davis], Jack [McBride], and Chris [McBride] were on fire,” said Lesko. “They were moving the ball great and just sticking their shots.”

Lesko acknowledged that the Princeton defense wasn’t at its best against Albany.

“Today our offense was just meshing but our defense wasn’t as strong as we would have liked,” said Lesko.

“Tyler Fiorito played amazing in goal, he bailed us out a bunch of times. We definitely have to get to work and try to improve on that for the next game.”

Still the performance last Friday was a big improvement considering that Princeton lost a week earlier to Hofstra and was still smarting from an abysmal 10-2 defeat to Albany last season.

“That was definitely a low point of last year’s season,” said Lesko, referring to the loss to Albany in 2008.

“We also had fuel losing to Hofstra last week which we were all pretty disappointed about. We worked hard this week and we came out with a ‘W’ so that’s all that really matters.”

The win over Albany could end up mattering a lot. “This is a turning point in the season,” maintained Lesko.

“We start over with a clean slate and we’ve got to make a run. We definitely expected to be able to beat Hofstra. It’s definitely a shock after that game; it didn’t really hit me until a day later. We looked at it and we know if we don’t come out to play, any team out there can beat us.”

Princeton head coach Bill Tierney was a bit bemused by the run-and-gun play he saw in the win over Albany.

“It’s different than most games; I didn’t know what was going on out there,” said a grinning Tierney.

“All these coaches talk about enjoying an offensive game. It doesn’t do me any good; it’s weird. It’s 6-4 at the quarter and that’s normally our final score.”

But there was nothing weird about the team’s dynamic offense which generated 54 shots and Princeton’s highest goal total since a 19-10 win over Quinnipiac in the 2004 season opener.

“Coach Metz put in a lot of time and effort in getting our offense moving again; being unselfish again and making the last pass,” said Tierney, referring to associate head coach David Metzbower.

“I thought the guys did that today and then they shot the lights out today. I don’t think we have ever shot like that before.”

In Tierney’s view, Lesko gave the Tigers a big shot in the arm. “I thought Josh Lesko really ignited us today; he was big time today,” asserted Tierney, whose team has now beaten three Top 20 teams so far this season with wins over Johns Hopkins and UMBC in addition to last Friday’s triumph.

“He’s better in open space. We always knew he would be great between the lines but he wasn’t a great defender. Now he’s become a great defender which gives him that chance to be good between the lines.”

With Princeton on spring break, the Tiger players took the chance to put in some extra time in preparing for Albany.

“They practiced very hard this week; it was our spring break and we went long,” said Tierney.

“We practiced the basics; we did one-on-ones. We did some other things. We weren’t sure coming into the game. They were really quiet and before the game quiet can mean a lot of different things. I was worried they would be flat but they weren’t. They were quietly confident and ready to go.”

The Tigers were ready to exorcise the demons from their recent loss to Hofstra as well as last season’s nightmare up in Albany.

“I think they were suitably humbled by the game last week,” said Tierney, whose team was slated to play at Rutgers on March 24 before its Ivy League campaign with a game at Yale on March 28.

“I don’t mean that to say that Hofstra should not have won, they should have. They were the better team last week. But that and our game against these guys last year certainly had everybody’s attention.”

Lesko and his senior classmates, for their part, have their attention focused squarely on one goal.

“Our senior class is a tight group,” said Lesko. “This whole year we have one single goal and that is a national championship. To be honest, we are willing to do whatever it takes. There is a sense of urgency because this is our last chance at it. Every time we set foot on the field, we know we have to leave it on the field.”

And Lesko’s willingness to change his spot on the field has helped Princeton take some early steps toward that goal.

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